August 20, 2021
In strategic efforts to combat the ongoing surge of delta variant and diminishing immunity, the Biden Administration formally recommended on August 18 that vaccinated Americans receive a booster COVID-19 shot. CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated in a recent Joint Statement with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) along with other public health and medical experts that administering booster shots are an important tactic to proactively protect public health as immunity wanes and the COVID-19 virus mutates to become more resistant.1
Based on the recommendations from health officials, those who received a full course of the mRNA two dose vaccines will be eligible for a booster shot eight months after their second dose, starting on Sept. 20, contingent on authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The prioritization of booster shots will likely mirror the initial round of vaccines, with health care workers, nursing home residents, older adults and frontline workers going first. Vaccines will continue to be free for patients, however health plans will likely be expected to cover the cost of administration.
Several global public health leaders and institutions pointed to significant moral and ethical issues considering most of the world population still has no immunity and has not received any vaccine—while the few countries that have are already urging a third shot.2
"Our top priority remains staying ahead of the virus and protecting the American people from COVID-19 with safe, effective, and long-lasting vaccines especially in the context of a constantly changing virus and epidemiologic landscape. We will continue to follow the science on a daily basis, and we are prepared to modify this plan should new data emerge that requires it."
"We also want to emphasize the ongoing urgency of vaccinating the unvaccinated in the U.S. and around the world. Nearly all the cases of severe disease, hospitalization, and death continue to occur among those not yet vaccinated at all. We will continue to ramp up efforts to increase vaccinations here at home and to ensure people have accurate information about vaccines from trusted sources. We will also continue to expand our efforts to increase the supply of vaccines for other countries, building further on the more than 600 million doses we have already committed to donate globally."
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated in a recent joint statement with HHS along with other public health/medical experts.1
Why Your CEO May Care
The latest announcement may raise additional questions related to the vaccine among employees, causing many employers, who have carefully developed vaccine related communication and encouragement strategies, to look into how the recommended booster shot will impact their programs. This new recommendation comes at the time when, due to the virus surge in the U.S. and transmissibility of delta variant, many employers were already choosing to step up their efforts to improve vaccination rates and mandate vaccines in the U.S., while globally continuing to deal with lack of vaccine access in many places.
As expert support for the booster shot is not yet universal, the communications may be even more challenging. Although some public health experts say that the COVID-19 booster may be necessary at some point (already approved for the immunocompromised), it might still be too early to promote it to everyone without fully understanding its effectiveness.3 NOTE: administration of this booster shot to the general population is still contingent upon pending approval by the FDA.4
What Employers Can Do
In response to this latest U.S. announcement employers can leverage some of the lessons learned during the initial vaccine rollout. On the global front, employers may also want to preemptively equip local decision makers with the knowledge, tools and resources needed to address the feedback they may receive from non-U.S. colleagues working in a country where access remains an issue
Some specific approaches employers might want to consider in their attempt to combat waning immunity, address ethical concerns and encourage employees to get a COVID-19 booster shot once available include:
- 1 | Monitoring the ongoing status and direction of FDA approval process along with emerging CDC recommendations for booster shots.
- 2 | Revising internal communication approaches that can proactively respond to concerns from employees working in a country/region where they cannot get immunized.
- 3 | Remaining cognizant and developing plans that keep in mind other important factors such as the timing of the annual flu vaccine and how that could impact employees seeking to get a booster shot this fall.
- 4 | Giving employees time and flexibility to receive a booster shot and recover from potential side effects.
- 5 | Considering how existing incentive programs may be impacted by this development and whether incentives should be extended to encourage employees to receive a booster shot.
- 6 | Considering the role of on-site clinics in supporting the ongoing covid and flu vaccination needs of U.S. employees.
The Business Group will continue to monitor and keep our members updated on any relevant insights, data and/or recommendations related to booster shots and potential implications for return-to-worksite strategy.
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- 1 | “Joint statement from HHS public health and medical experts on covid-19 booster shots.” US Department of Health & Human Services. August 18, 2021. www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/08/18/joint-statement-hhs-public-health-and-medical-experts-covid-19-booster-shots.html/. Accessed August 19, 2021
- 2 | “COVID-19 vaccine: Who chief urges wealthy nations to suspend booster roll-out.” The News Nigeria. August 18, 2021. https://www.thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2021/08/18/covid-19-vaccine-who-chief-urges-wealthy-nations-to-suspend-booster-roll-out/. Accessed August 19, 2021.
- 3 | Murray, E.& Bernard-Mayers R. Booster shots won’t stop the delta variant. Here’s the math to prove it. The Washington Post., August 12, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/coronavirus-vaccine-booster-shots/2021/08/11/aefec5dc-fae0-11eb-9c0e-97e29906a970_story.html/. Accessed August 19, 2021.
- 4 | Collins K, Bonifield J. FDA expected to authorize Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for some immunocompromised people within the next 48 hours. CNN. August 11, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/11/politics/fda-third-dose-covid-19-vaccine/index.html. Accessed August 20, 2021.