COVID-19 vaccines have arrived and while supplies remain limited, it is expected that more doses and more vaccine options will be available throughout 2021. Employers are thinking through how best to prepare and support their employees from health and safety, educational and legal perspectives. This updated paper examines the current state of COVID-19 vaccines and identifies the areas employer plan sponsors will need to contemplate as vaccines become more widely available. It is important to note that the data and the opinions reflected in this paper are captured at a point in time and could change rapidly in the current environment.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were first to market in December 2020, after being given emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Johnson & Johnson followed and received their emergency use authorization on February 27, 2021. The vaccines in the near pipeline are Astra Zeneca and Novavax. They are both expected to file for EUA in Q1-Q2 2021.
What do we know about the vaccine safety and effectiveness?
While current COVID -19 vaccines have been approved for use under the Emergency Use Authorization process, they are showing high efficacy rates in preventing hospitalizations and deaths from the illness. The speed in which these vaccines have been made available to the public is unprecedented. Some consumers, however, have expressed safety concerns with receiving the vaccine. It is important to understand that these vaccines are based on years of research in vaccine safety and development. Now, with more than 52 million shots administered in the United States, the CDC has advised that COVID -19 vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. This monitoring includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Results from these monitoring efforts are reassuring. While some people don’t have any side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, many people will have mild side effects such as pain or swelling at the injection site, and some may have more robust side effects including headaches, chills, or fever. Approximately 80–89% of vaccinated persons experience at least one local symptom and 55–83% experience at least one systemic symptom following vaccination. These reactions are normal and show the vaccine is working in revving up the immune system to protect against COVID. Continued safety monitoring of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. has confirmed that anaphylaxis following vaccination is a rare event, with rates of 4.7 cases/million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses administered and 2.5 cases/million Moderna vaccine doses administered, based on information through January 18, 2021.
What Is Emergency Use Authorization?
Emergency use authorization (EUA) is a mechanism for the FDA to facilitate use of medical treatments, including vaccines, during public health emergencies. For an EUA to be issued for a vaccine, the FDA―advised by an external panel of scientific and public health experts―must determine that the known potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks by reviewing safety and efficacy data.
How are the vaccines different or similar?
Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are based on two doses, 21 days apart and 28 days apart, respectively. Although partial immunity is conferred after the first dose, full immunity does not develop until 1-2 weeks after the second dose.
It is important to note that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable with each other or with other COVID-19 vaccine products. The safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is a one-dose shot, considered to be the best option in a pandemic setting by offering improved access and compliance compared to two-shot doses. Full immunity is conferred after 4 weeks.
Vaccine Distribution and the Employer Response
Click below to continue reading about vaccine distribution and considerations for employers as the vaccine becomes more widely available.
Please be advised that any and all information, comments, analysis, and/or recommendations set forth above relative to the possible impact of COVID-19 on potential insurance coverage or other policy implications are intended solely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as legal or medical advice. As an insurance broker, we have no authority to make coverage decisions as that ability rests solely with the issuing carrier. Therefore, all claims should be submitted to the carrier for evaluation. The positions expressed herein are opinions only and are not to be construed as any form of guarantee or warranty. Finally, given the extremely dynamic and rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, comments above do not take into account any applicable pending or future legislation introduced with the intent to override, alter or amend current policy language.
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