Large employers, from the meat packaging industry to airlines to pharmaceutical companies, are obtaining permission from public health officials to administer Covid-19 vaccines, in hopes of speeding up vaccinations for their employees.
Many companies see administering vaccine doses to employees at work as a way to effectively vaccinate staff, but in doing so, they are joining a race for scarce vaccines.
AbbVie Pharmaceutical Company Inc.
It has begun dosing staff at its North Chicago headquarters, according to people familiar with the matter, prioritizing those 65 and older and then operations and manufacturing workers. Abbott Laboratories ABT 1.07%
It has also begun dosing at its nearby headquarters to eligible workers, such as those in manufacturing, foodservice and day care, a spokeswoman said, and Tyson Foods Inc.
has delivered doses to staff at its Joslin, Illinois beef plant and some workers in Iowa, a spokesperson said.
Other large companies registered to provide doses include energy giant Exxon Mobil Corp.
, meatpacking company Smithfield Foods Inc. and machinery manufacturers Caterpillar Inc.
and Deere DE 3.52%
& Co., according to Illinois Public Health Records. Some of those companies organize or plan to hold closed vaccination events, which means that only their own staff are eligible, not the general public. The sites depend on state and local public health authorities for dose allocation.
Fund manager Fidelity Investments has signed up to provide doses at its Boston headquarters and will begin giving injections to workers over 65 when it receives the Massachusetts vaccines, a spokesperson said. A third-party health and wellness company will administer the vaccines according to the state’s prioritization guidelines, he added.
Throughout the pandemic, companies have contested access to safety-related tools such as protective equipment and testing capabilities to protect workers and give customers and staff more confidence in shared spaces. Now his focus has shifted to vaccines.
The prioritization of vaccines differs from state to state. In some jurisdictions, who is eligible to receive doses depends solely on age. In others, any worker in a prioritized sector, from healthcare to manufacturing, can receive a dose regardless of whether their role involves interacting with the public, the ability to work from home or remotely, or the type of product in the job. That works.
Companies that want to vaccinate their workers generally have to register with public health programs that approve who is eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccine assignments. In general, the federal government assigns doses to states, territories, some large cities, and some federal agencies, which then distribute them to voters or local health authorities.
Some health care equity researchers say state prioritization guidelines may be too broad and run the risk of vaccine doses being given to people who are not at high risk of contracting Covid-19 at work when supply remains being limited throughout the country.
Vaccination in the workplace helps eliminate transit and time off challenges for hourly workers, and efficiently delivers doses to those in high-risk positions, such as those where social distancing is not possible, said Dr. Janice Bowie, a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It also highlights the problem of classifying entire sectors as essential, when worker roles, workplace hazards and health conditions vary widely, he said.
“This is certainly not black and white” from an ethical perspective, given the current limited supply of vaccines nationwide, Dr. Bowie said of companies receiving doses to administer to staff.
Some health care equity experts said employers’ administration of the Covid-19 vaccine can help speed distribution by taking eligible workers off the line at public sites and making the appointment process easier. The challenge is that not all companies seek or receive dose assignments, they said.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Illinois Department of Health, of assignments for dose managers in his jurisdiction, which include Abbott and AbbVie. The vaccine supply has increased since the first days of the launch, but many more entities now want doses, he said. His department asks companies to prioritize workers 65 and older, working together on manufacturing lines, or living in zip codes most affected by Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
On-site dosing gives employers better visibility into who’s getting vaccinated than if workers travel to public facilities, corporate medical advisers say. It also saves employers lost hours if workers have to travel to vaccine administration sites during business hours and saves staff the cost of lost wages, child care, and transit.
“Employers have found this to be the best way to get their population back to work in the safest way possible,” said Tobias Barker, medical director for Everside Health, which helps employers with vaccination events and maintenance. records.
An Abbott spokeswoman said the company is working with public health officials at locations where it has manufacturing facilities to offer vaccines to eligible workers when doses are available. Any dose of vaccine the company receives goes only to employees who meet government requirements for the initial stages of the vaccine, he said.
A Deere & Co. spokeswoman said vaccinations for its employees began last week at its five Illinois locations. It will make doses available to production and maintenance employees in its manufacturing units, and to salaried employees who have consistently reported to their factories or offices since March 2020, which is a minority of such staff.
Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s managing director, said the company and its partners can facilitate the rapid distribution of vaccines to food and agriculture workers and is doing so according to specific state guidelines. The company is ready to help with distribution to workers in other essential categories, he added.
An Exxon spokesperson said the doses will be administered in accordance with the requirements of local health authorities, prioritized for those in roles deemed critical by the company. A Caterpillar spokeswoman declined to comment.
Airlines, including United Airlines Holdings Inc.
and American Airlines Group Inc.
They said they began administering doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week to certain staff at their respective health clinics at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. United said employees who live or work in Chicago would be eligible if they are at least 65 or are members of the flight crew. American said its O’Hare-based regional and mainline employees are eligible, but those with customer-facing roles would take priority.
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The Biden administration expects to have vaccine doses available to all adults across the country by May, although it is unclear when people might receive them. Increases in the supply of vaccines have fanned the hopes of some employers to bring staff to the offices this year.
Many have tried to encourage vaccination, but do not force it. Various companies with public facing staff, from Trader Joe’s to Instacart Inc. and Dollar General Corp.
have given workers the equivalent of several hours of pay in exchange for getting vaccinated.
Medical advisers say that delivering doses on the spot can create a network effect in which colleagues see their bosses or co-workers taking doses and then become more receptive to doing it themselves.
—Alison Sider contributed to this article.
Write to Sarah Krouse at [email protected]
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