Anthony Harris

Whether long-term care operators will mandate that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine once one is available has been a topic of much discussion over the past several weeks.

Last week, for example, the largest nursing home operator in the United States — Genesis Healthcare — stated that although it plans to ensure that all workers will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at its facilities, it will not require them. In a similar vein, senior living operator Trilogy Health Services recently said that although it does require its employees to get an annual flu vaccine, it will leave the decision about getting a COVID-19 vaccine up to its workers.

Regardless of whether senior living and care operators plan to mandate the new COVID-19 vaccine, workplace safety expert Anthony Harris, M.D., MBA, told the McKnight’s Business Daily that if they haven’t already, employers should be getting in touch with state and local health departments as soon as possible to ensure workers have access to the vaccine quickly when it’s made available. 

“Long-term care operators having these discussions now will be paramount to making sure access to the vaccines is not held up by any discontinuity in the logistics,” said Harris, chief innovation officer and associate medical director for occupational health firm WorkCare.

He also noted that operators — and particularly human resource managers — should be developing plans for mass vaccinations in a way that allows for the tracking of who has received their first dose and of what vaccine, as well as when the second dose is due.

“As we’ve seen with COVID-19 since the spring, HR is playing a quasi-clinical role,” he said.

In terms of whether operators should establish a mandate requiring the vaccine for workers, Harris said he believes it shouldn’t be viewed by employees as optional, although he does note that he expects to see exceptions allowed for those with underlying health conditions or who for religious reasons cannot get vaccinated — similar to those in place with other immunizations. 

“But, at the end of the day we only get to a new sense of normal if enough people get vaccinated,” Harris said.

Monday in a call with reporters, American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson weighed in on whether employers should mandate the vaccine, noting that legal questions exist with regard to whether a vaccine under emergency use authorization can be mandated as are those under normal authorization.

“We are waiting to see what kind of acceptance rate we get among employees,” Parkinson said during the call. “Our hope is that we get widespread acceptance of the vaccine, but if we don’t, I assure you that our organization, as well as individual operators, will be analyzing whether or not they can mandate the vaccine. We’re just hoping that we don’t have to go there.”

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