Vaccinations for COVID-19 have begun around the state and the country, and every state has its own plan for which groups get the vaccine at what point. What does the rollout for Ohio look like, when will the farm and food sector have access to the vaccine and will there be workplace vaccine requirements? Ohio Farm Bureau Policy Counsel Leah Curtis answers these questions on the latest Legal with Leah.
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Ty Higgins [00:00:00] Well, vaccinations for COVID-19 have begun around the state and around the country. Of course, every state has its own plan for which groups get the vaccine and at what point. Let’s talk about that and more with Leah Curtis for this Legal with Leah. She’s policy counsel with the Ohio Farm Bureau.
Ty Higgins [00:00:17] We’ve heard a lot about this rollout. We’re now in the 1B stage here in Ohio. Walk us through the process, starting with 1A. How did it all begin and where is it going from here?
Leah Curtis [00:00:29] Like a lot of states, we are in kind of in what’s called the 1B phase right now. 1A was largely health care workers, also residents and employees in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, group homes, those places where there is not just a high risk of spread, but also high risk to the people there. Now, we’ve moved into 1B that’s largely people over the age of 65 for us here in Ohio. And we started that this past week with those that were 80 and older and every week for the next couple of weeks will go down by five year increments and that’ll be available to those individuals. Then there will then be an availability for those with severe congenital, developmental or early onset conditions. And then we will move to adults that are in the K through 12 space. So that’s not just teachers, but also other personnel that are interacting with each other and with children in K through 12 schools that want to go back, at least partially, in person. And these categories build on one another. So it’s not like if you miss your week, you’re out of luck. They do build. So anybody who is available in the first week could still get it in the second week.
Ty Higgins [00:01:41] So eventually we get to the point where the general public is going to be able to get these COVID-19 vaccines. And that brings up questions as to whether an employer can require an employee to get a vaccination. What do you have for us on that?
Leah Curtis [00:01:54] So keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily a new question. It’s new because of COVID, but vaccines have always been available for lots of things. The flu vaccine is available every year. So generally employers can make vaccination a requirement for employment. But there are going to be exceptions and possible accommodations that have to be made. Those may be related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee has a medical condition, it could be related to the Civil Rights Act if there’s a religious belief that conflicts with that vaccine. So the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is with the federal government, has released some guidance around how employers might handle a vaccine requirement. And so if you as an employer are considering this, you should really consult that guidance, take a look at the things that you need to take into consideration (and) how you would deal with them. And then, of course, if you have legal counsel that you work with for your business, it’s probably a good idea to talk with them as well and kind of develop a policy that’s written that you can then work with your employees on.
Ty Higgins [00:03:00] When this all first started to unfold back in March, agriculture and the food sector was deemed essential. And that means that obviously we need to keep that food system moving in the right direction. So when it comes to the farm and food industry workers as a category, has there been any movement on when they might be able to get vaccinated?
Leah Curtis [00:03:19] First, keep in mind that if farm and food employees fit in any of these other categories, for example, the age categories, they would have an opportunity to access through that as well. There has not been any clarification in the State of Ohio on that yet. That being said, the governor did recently ask the Biden administration for assistance in developing a nationwide plan that would specifically address the challenges of getting vaccination to both seasonal and migrant agricultural workers because they move throughout the country. That creates a different burden than people who are kind of living in one place all the time.
The CDC has listed farm and food workers generally as front line essential workers in the recommended 1B phase. But that’s guidance. That’s not a requirement. That’s what the CDC has recommended. And you have to recognize, too, that we have to prioritize all these different groups because we have a limited supply of vaccine. But as we see that vaccine production and distribution increase, we’re going to be able to expand those phases and eventually move out of these restricted phases where (instead) everybody will be able to get it as they need to, rather than having to restrict by occupation or age or condition. There is a toolkit that’s available for employers of essential workers from the CDC that provides a lot of information just generally about the vaccine, information about myths about the vaccine that are not true, that may hinder or may give your employees pause. And so that is also available for employers. Kind of on the public relations side of it, if you have employees with concerns, you can kind of help talk with them about it.
Ty Higgins [00:04:59] As with anything that’s happened over the last nine, 10 months, there’s a lot of questions, a lot of concerns, but still plenty of resources. And as Leah Curtis mentioned, we’ll have those resources. If you look for this podcast at ofbf.org, we’ll have a couple of links there that will give you the answers that you need as far as this vaccination process is concerned. Leah Curtis, policy counsel with Ohio Farm Bureau. Thanks for your time, Leah.
Leah Curtis [00:05:25] Thank you.