The CDC recommends that healthcare professionals be offered the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines. As essential healthcare staff working with individuals at high risk of contracting COVID, addiction treatment providers have an ethical imperative to get vaccinated unless there is a medical reason not to do so.
After a long year of fear and loss, the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available provide hope for a future of reconnection and healing. The FDA has to date issued authorizations for two vaccines that demonstrate 95% effectiveness in clinical studies. The rollout of vaccinations varies significantly from state to state, so while some of our members have a large majority of their staff vaccinated, others still have no staff who have received the vaccine.
Infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists strongly support the vaccine, stating that the risks of contracting and experiencing serious consequences of COVID far outweigh the risks and side effects of the vaccine. Up to 50% of staff at some organizations have expressed hesitancy to get the vaccine. Leaders at NAATP Provider Member organizations have been discussing the challenges of educating their staff, assuring them that among over 35,000 individuals vaccinated several months ago, very few severe side effects have been reported.
While the EEOC does not prohibit employers from mandating vaccinations, such policies must comply with ADA, the Civil Rights Act, and other workplace laws. Some employers may choose to strongly encourage vaccination rather than require it. Recommendations to treatment provider organizations include:
- Communicate clearly and frequently with employees to help them understand how vaccination will help ensure safety among both staff and patients.
- Provide information on local vaccination plans and sites and make it as easy as possible for staff to get vaccinated.
- Provide education on the vaccine by dispelling myths and encouraging staff to get vaccinated as they are able.
- Cover any costs associated with the vaccine whenever possible and consider offering incentives to staff who get vaccinated.
- Consult with legal counsel regarding mandating vaccines, due to potential litigation risk if an employee were to have an adverse reaction.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has stated that if 75-80% of Americans are vaccinated in coming months, the US could reach herd immunity by the fall, allowing society to achieve “some degree of normality that is close to where we were before.”
Considering the potentially deadly impact of COVID, and the higher risk of COVID among patients with substance use disorders, vaccination of a large majority of treatment provider staff presents a clear path to ensuring the safety and wellness of the individuals we employ and treat.