The next challenge for the launch of the Explainer-US vaccine: checking who is “essential”

(Reuters) – As US industries push for workers to receive early access to COVID-19 vaccines, local health departments and pharmacies face the challenge of verifying the identity of key workers to ensure no one cuts the line .

PHOTO FILE: A health worker receives a dose of Moderna coronavirus vaccine (COVID-19) at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, USA, December 22, 2020. REUTERS / Bing Guan

The ongoing vaccination campaign now focuses on hospital staff and nursing homes, strictly controlled environments where verification is relatively straightforward. But starting in January or February, Americans employed in a number of industries will be eligible for inoculation, provided they are essential workers.

The absence of a plan to check the jobs of vaccine candidates and the confusion about who qualifies as essential raises the risks of fraud and disorganization.


The criteria for qualifying as a key, front-line worker vary from state to state. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that about 30 million key workers will be next in line for a shooting. Another 57 million key workers will be vaccinated later.

The lack of clear guidelines will significantly complicate the verification process, as these workers are looking for shots.

The United States has two authorized COVID-19 vaccines, one from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE and one from Moderna Inc. Vaccines run as hospitals reach full capacity and deaths have exceeded 317,000.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a list of key U.S. workers during the pandemic in March.

The list covers almost 70% of the US workforce and has provided little clarity to health officials trying to initially distribute limited doses of vaccines.

Over the summer, many states began to develop their own priority lists, sometimes differing from the importance of local industries. States generally have a wide discretion regarding the distribution of vaccines.

This has led to a mix of guidelines across the country, with companies complaining that their workers are considered essential in one state but not another.

An expert group advising the CDC on Sunday recommended that people 75 and older and workers, including first responders, teachers, food and agriculture, manufacturing, the U.S. postal service, public transportation, and store workers have the next priority for vaccines.

Some US states have indicated that they will continue with the distribution plans they initially developed.

Michael Einhorn, president of the New York-based drug distributor Dealmed, criticized health officials’ decisions to prioritize key workers for the next phase of the vaccine, rather than distributing it along the age lines.

“There will be people who will try to cut the line and commit fraud to get a vaccine,” said Einhorn, whose company was involved in distributing the flu vaccine.


It is not yet clear how health departments and pharmacies will verify the identity of a significantly larger and more diverse group of people eligible for the next round of vaccines.

CVS pharmacy operators, Walgreens and Kroger Co each referred to state and local guidelines when asked how to check key workers.

“If the court seeks assistance from Walgreens, Walgreens will distribute a voucher or authorization form that the individual can use to schedule a vaccination meeting,” a Walgreens spokeswoman said in a statement.

CVS said it will share more information as it approaches the next phase of vaccine distribution in the first quarter of 2021.

Kroger said in a statement that he would ask customers to make an appointment online and use a screening tool to manage the verification process.

“In some cases, the state will identify and verify people before they are sent to us for vaccination,” said a Kroger spokeswoman.

States have not emphasized how they will verify the identity of workers. Companies pushing to vaccinate their workers are exploring different options.

The Consumer Trademark Association, which represents food, beverage, personal care and household products companies, and the Food Industry Association, which represents food retailers, said they are developing letter templates for employees to verify their status. essential worker.

“We understand that states may have different designation standards, but we are (working) to provide our members with a resource to help reduce confusion,” a Food Industry Association spokeswoman said in a statement.

Reporting by Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares in New York; Montage by Cynthia Osterman