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For Hospital Employers: Who Gets the Vaccine First?

After nine months of COVID restrictions, many people feel hope and relief as the government rolls out the first doses of vaccines. Initial vaccine doses will go to health care workers first because of their frequent contact with COVID patients. Without enough doses for each of its employees, each hospital must decide who goes first.

The Federal Drug Administration authorized Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine solely for emergency use because it lacks significant medical data on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. In news reports, medical facilities across the country shared the ethical, legal, and practical challenges presented with distributing these vaccines.

In its vaccine distribution, UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh will prioritize staff working in critical units, including doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, and employees registering patients. The hospital intends to spread the vaccine across all occupations to provide equal access and to account for racial disparities. Black and Hispanic individuals make up a larger share of the hospital employees working in support jobs. The hospital would like to prioritize workers with serious underlying conditions, but that would require employees to share personal medical information.

At Northwell hospital in New York said it will vaccinate according to an individual’s risk of infection, looking at the person’s job function and age. At UT Southwestern in Texas, the hospital will assess each employee’s risk of developing a severe case of COVID, as well as the employee’s assigned ward. Department heads may submit a list of recommended employees for early vaccination. With doses available to less than half of the staff, these medical facilities face the daunting task of balancing many competing needs.