Thursday, April 15, 2021

US states grapple with what makes an ‘essential’ worker in a rush for Covid

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Business leaders have started pushing for their workers to receive priority access to a coronavirus vaccine, as U.S. states consider passing broad and potentially controversial federal guidelines on how to define ‘essential workers “.

Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health, promised on Friday that the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech would begin shipping early next week, along with the drug regulator. ready to authorize it within a few days. But while the first doses will be awarded for healthcare workers and those who live and work in long-term care homes, the next phase of distribution is likely to be much more controversial.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proposed that the following “essential workers” will be considered by the agency’s vaccine advisory committee.

But the CDC’s definition of what makes a person economically essential is broad, representing 87 million people – including emergency and grocery workers, but also other professions such as lawyers, bankers and retailers. weapons.

States will have to make the final decision whether or not to adopt the CDC guidelines once they are approved, and several have already said they will. Many are already under heavy pressure from companies and industry groups to have their workers prioritized when plans are finalized.

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asking that the company’s drivers be included among other frontline workers who are given priority access to the vaccine.

“They have transported healthcare workers to hospitals, delivered food to socially distanced people in their homes, and helped local restaurants stay in business,” he wrote. “As you finalize your state level allocation and distribution plans, I encourage you to recognize the essential nature of their work.”

Abe Malkin, a doctor at the elite Concierge MD medical practice, said his phone had ‘ringed’ with patients keen to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and large companies wanting vaccine supplies to hand over employees at work.

“I think there will be a lot more opportunities for companies to take advantage of connections, because there is so much more gray area when it comes to essential workers who really need the vaccine,” he said. -he adds.

Under “law enforcement,” the CDC document lists “workers who support the operation of firearms or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors and ranges.” And in the area of ​​financial services, it is not only the staff of bank branches that are included, but also those working in commercial and investment banking.

The American Bankers Association said the banking lobby had “advocated that among bank workers already deemed ‘essential’ by the government, those who come into contact with the public on a daily basis, such as cashiers, should be considered [the] CDC Phase 1b, with essential workers in other industries ”.

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The list has already been reflected in the draft distribution plans drawn up by certain States. A die Illinois, for example, states: “Essential frontline workers are expected to include those designated by the US Department of Homeland Security as belonging to categories of critical infrastructure workers who are at higher risk of injury. exposure and are unable to reduce risk through telecommuting. or isolation. ”

Many experts believe that the CDC and its advisory committee will need to more strictly define essential workers if they are to avoid a major public dispute.

Neither the CDC nor José Romero, chairman of the committee, responded to a request for comment. Helen Keipp Talbot, one of the other committee members, agreed the list was broadly drawn up, but added, “I hope they make a lot of vaccines.”

Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, has warned that allowing the wealthy to skip the line would provoke outrage. He called on state public health authorities to redefine “essential workers” as those who are “in front of the people”.

“The employee at the grocery store becomes more important for vaccinations than a banker,” he said. “With all due respect to bankers, much of the job of bankers can be done – for at least a little longer – remotely, while the grocery store cashier has to interact with hundreds of people.”

Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin in New York

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