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Vaccine tracking: Proceed with caution

vaccine card

Employers are eager for their workers to get vaccinated and return to the workplace, as questions linger over how they can track who has been vaccinated, whether they should track such information and how they should use it if they do.

“There are a great deal of questions around tracking programs,” said Dr. Neal Mills, Portland, Oregon-based chief medical officer at
Aon PLC. “Employers have to be careful with how they’re going to ask for this information and what they’re going to do about the information when they have it.”

A survey released in late February by Arlington, Virginia-based Eagle Hill Consulting LLC found that 42% of U.S. workers polled said their employers should wait to re-open workplaces until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, and 52% said their employers should require workers be vaccinated.

The knowledge that co-workers in the workplace are vaccinated can “provide some assurance around the safety of the environment,” said Jennifer Santiago, assistant vice president and chief risk officer of Pennsylvania State University. 

Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. in February launched a vaccination-tracking program that enables employers to collect employee data on a voluntary basis using a cloud-based tool. The information gathered includes whether a worker has been vaccinated, if a second dose is needed  and if a worker experienced side effects, said Kimberly George, Chicago-based global head of product development and innovation at Sedgwick.

“It helps employers understand and monitor the safety of their employees,” she said. 

Employees can acknowledge if they’ve been vaccinated, with the understanding that the information will be shared with their employer. The tool also lets employers ask for and record proof of vaccination, which some companies are requiring before paying out any offered vaccination incentives, Ms. George said. 

Risk management software company Origami Risk LLC released a vaccination-tracking program that includes tracking for positive COVID-19 test results. It also keeps track of the number of vaccine doses a worker has received and the dosing schedule, and generates reminders to keep employees on track for full vaccination, said Ellen Moser, Atlanta-based senior client executive at Origami. 

“Having stats at your fingertips is key, being able to see what percentage of folks are vaccinated,” Ms. Moser said. 

So far, the industries most interested in tracking vaccinations include health care systems, senior care facilities, food service distributors for the hospital and senior care sectors, and health care linen and uniform laundering services, she said. 

Ms. George said that Sedgwick has found that employers in retail, transportation, manufacturing and education are most interested in tracking vaccinations. 

Before tracking vaccinations, employers should consider barriers to strategically collecting the information, said Dr. Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy management and health informatics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

An employer cannot access an employee’s medical record “unless we give permission or unless we do things in an aggregated way that abides by (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act),” Dr. Weiner said. 

Employers also must ensure they don’t run afoul of anti-discrimination laws if they question workers who choose not to be vaccinated about why they’ve declined, Dr. Mills of Aon said. 

Is the data collected “a verbal anonymous survey, or employee specific being done to track an incentive … or is it really around return to work?” he asked.

If employers ask for proof of vaccination, they must decide how they will store the information, Dr. Mills said. “That information has to be kept in a separate place from the employee’s personnel file, and additional privacy laws are applicable,” he said. 

And given the wide number of vaccine distributors — as well as several different vaccines — how can an employer be sure that the “proof” of vaccination provided by a worker is legitimate? he said. 

Regardless of what tracking mechanism an employer uses, with only about 15% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated as of March, employers must maintain coronavirus safety protocols, said Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

“In this transition period, there are a small percentage of Americans who are vaccinated, but the vast majority are not,” he said. “We’re really not in that phase when we can do a lot of major changes (to the workplace).”





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