Weekly Review: COVID-19 Legal and Ethics Issues – March 15, 2021

Weekly Review: COVID-19 Legal and Ethics Issues – March 15, 2021

Expanding Vaccine Administration Work Force

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services expanded the range of health professionals eligible for liability protection while prescribing, dispensing and administering Covid-19 countermeasures, including vaccines. According to Bloomberg, this liability shied expansion includes “those professionals and physician assistants, eye doctors, and veterinarians who are licensed or who have been licensed in any state within the past five years. This should significantly expand the number of health professionals potentially available to assist with vaccine delivery as the U.S. seeks to make every American adult eligible for shots by May 1.

Mask Mandates

According to Dr. Fauci, while U.S. numbers are trending in the right direction, to avoid a resurgence and more shutdowns like Italy recently suffered, mask mandates and social distancing measures should stay in place. About a dozen states recently have loosened their local restrictions, but as events like the Duke University school wide week long quarantine indicate, “We’re not in the end zone yet.”

Workplace Safety

While it is anticipated that new federal Covid-19 employment safety guidance will be issued soon, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a new National Emphasis Program to increase worker protection against SARS-CoV-2 exposure and injury in “high-hazard industries” and “activities where this hazard is prevalent.” According to the agency, “this NEP includes an added focus to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation.” The program will cover a wide range of health care and non-health care industries where virus exposure risks have been demonstrated or are expected to be higher (see Appendices A & B in the link above, found at pdf pages 24-27). Employers can find more guidance on workplace safety from OSHA at the agency’s Covid-19 Safety and Health Topics Page, and at the CDC’s website for businesses and employers.

Social Determinants of Health in Health Records

Where people work, live, go to school, and play – the social determinants of health – have a significant impact on peoples’ overall health, as well as their risk of contracting Covid-19. However, this information is not well tracked in electronic health record systems. As part of its overarching health equity initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services is asking for public comments on health professionals’ experiences with gathering and using such information.

Vaccine Passports

The Biden Administration is considering what role, if any, vaccine passports might play in further reopening society. Interest in this topic has been rising along with the share of the public that is vaccinated. However, just as there are many perspectives on what “the end” of the pandemic might look like, there are many perspectives on and questions about vaccine passports’ usefulness as there are passport proposals. Concerns that remain to be addressed in order to effectively implement such schemes include: clarifying how effective vaccines are in reducing transmissibility, the length of resistance vaccines offer, vaccines’ effectiveness against viral mutations, and health communication messaging implying that having a passport means someone is “safe” (or that lack of a passport means someone is not). As one bioethics expert stated, “giving people a passport that says they are ‘safe’ might actually produce a false sense of security that could result in further spread of disease.”

COVID-19 Relief Plan Passed by Congress

The American Rescue Plan was signed into law earlier this week, authorizing billions of new federal dollars to aid state and local public health in their pandemic response efforts. You can read a section by section summary of the plan here. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials lauds the program’s “$7.5 billion for vaccine-related activities; $47.8 billion for testing, tracing, and mitigation; $7.66 billion to bolster the public health workforce; $1 billion to strengthen confidence in COVID-19 vaccines; $500 million for public health data surveillance and data modernization; and over $3.8 billion for mental health and substance use disorder activities. Additionally, an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Medicaid flexibilities for states and territories, and direct aid to state and local governments are necessary and critical investments to support the response.” This Health Affairs piece reviews important changes the law made to health insurance coverage, including broadening the subsidies available to help people purchase comprehensive plans.

|2021-03-15T09:59:45-04:00March 15th, 2021|COVID-19 Literature|0 Comments

About the Author: Ross Silverman

Ross Silverman
Ross D. Silverman, JD, MPH, is Professor of Health Policy and Management at Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health and Professor of Public Health and Law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. He is a member of the IU Centers on Health Policy and Bioethics. His research focuses on public health and medical law, policy, and ethics, and law's impact on health outcomes and vulnerable populations. He also serves as Associate Editor on Legal Epidemiology for Public Health Reports, the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service. His most recent Covid-19 publications include: "Ensuring Uptake of Vaccines Against SARS-CoV-2" in the New England Journal of Medicine (with MM Mello & SB Omer), and "Covid-19: control measures must be equitable and inclusive" in BMJ (with ZD Berger, NG Evans & AL Phelan)

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