COVID-19 News

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COVID-19 News

| January 14, 2021
By: Chris Geehern

State and federal governments continue to pass measures and issue orders to address the medical and economic fallout from the COVID-19 issue.

Here is a summary for employers. If you have questions regarding these or other public policy issues, please contact a member of the AIM Government Affairs Team.

January 14, 2021

Governor Will Re-Introduce Unemployment Rate Relief for Businesses

Governor Charlie Baker plans to refile a proposal to freeze pending increases in unemployment insurance rates for employers.

The governor proposed the freeze during the just-concluded 2019-2020 session but lawmakers did not pass it.

The proposed legislation seeks to sustain unemployment benefits and provide an estimated $1.3 billion in unemployment insurance relief to the commonwealth’s employers over two years. In addition to a two-year unemployment insurance tax schedule freeze, the legislation proposes financing measures designed to ensure the solvency of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and that federal borrowing that has occurred is repaid in a responsible and affordable manner.

The main provisions of this legislation include:

  • Short Term Employer Tax Relief through a two-year tax schedule freeze. Current Massachusetts unemployment legislative statute requires the employer tax schedule to increase from schedule E to schedule G. This would cause an average per employee tax increase from $539 to $866 – a nearly 60% increase over the previous year. Remaining on schedule E for 2021 and 2022 slows annual employer contribution growth from $539 average per employee costs in 2020 to $635 in 2021 and $665 in 2022.
  • Authorization for the issuance of special obligation bonds for the purposes of repaying federal advances. In order to fund the unprecedented increases in demand on the unemployment system in Massachusetts as a result of COVID-19, the Commonwealth has received federal cash advances. Through the issuance of bonds, the Commonwealth will be able to ensure positive trust fund solvency to enable the continued payment of benefits. The utilization of capital markets also allows Massachusetts to avoid paying punitive federal tax increases on employers regardless of their experience rating if federal advances are not repaid by November of 2022. Bonds issued will be supported by an unemployment obligation assessment and will not be general obligations of the Commonwealth.
  • Establishes an employer surcharge on contributory employers. In 2020 all federal advances taken to pay benefits are interest free. However, interest on federal advances will begin to be charged beginning in January of 2021. The first interest payment is due in the Fall of 2021 and it cannot be paid from the state unemployment trust fund, per federal law. To fund interest payments on repayable advances, the legislation also establishes a separate fund to house surcharge proceeds. The passage of this provision authorizes the Department of Unemployment Assistance to make this assessment but does not require the surcharge if interest is waived through future federal legislation.

AIM Advocacy on behalf of this legislation included:

  • Statement to entire legislature– includes a packet of all federal-level advocacy AIM has done requesting additional aid to state and local governments and direct relief to state unemployment trust funds.
  • AIM Member Blog
  • Testimony in Supportto Labor and Workforce Development CommitteeAIM plans on re-engaging with the legislature on the importance of this bill and continuing our efforts encourage its passage before initial UI bills are due from employers at the end of Q1/March 2021.

Vaccine Distribution Update & COVID Resources

Vaccine Distribution Status: We are in Phase One with health-care providers and first responders.  Next week begins congregate care and related a- risk communities.

As of today, the Baker Administration is planning that Phase Two would start around the same time as originally planned for February.

COVID-19 Infection Rate(s) Status:  Key metrics relative to rate of transmission and hospitalization remain closely watched metrics. For a weekly report, click here for new vaccination data dashboard.

COVID-19 Business Regulation Status: Temporary Capacity Restrictions remain in effect.  Click here for more details (direct link) or click here to read the Temporary Capacity Order or here for the overview.

Vaccine Finder Interactive Map – Find a location in the commonwealth to receive a vaccine.

When can my employees receive vaccine?  The Department of Public Health changed the Phase 2 Group 1 based distributions related to residents age 75 and older to conform with CDC guidance – See full distribution plan here.

How can I find out where my employees fall in the distribution plan or how can I advocate that my employees fall within a certain phase?   For companies to inquire with the MassDPH regarding vaccination prioritization see email: COVID-19-Vaccine-Plan-MA@mass.gov

Essential Workers:  The Massachusetts distribution plan considers and prioritizes “critical employees” instead of essential workers.

EEOC guidance – see directly below for recent guidance.

Other States:  Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine distribution by state – Ballotpedia and State COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans: Links to all 50 (usatoday.com) and State COVID-19 Vaccine Resources – National Governors Association (nga.org)

AIM Webinar | Pins and Needles: Should Employers Require COVID-19 Vaccines?

Today, January 14 | 11-11:30 am.

Join us as Andrew P. Botti, a Director at McLane Middleton and member of the firm’s Employment Law Practices Group, discusses the implications of the recently issued Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advisory on requiring employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Such a requirement may implicate provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act concerning religious freedoms.

Learn More

AIM HR Solutions Offers Resources on Leaves

With the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave now effective and COVID cases still on the rise, the AIM HR Solutions team has put together new resources and training opportunities to help employers ensure they understand managing leaves through 2021 and beyond.

Listen to our first podcast featuring AIM HR Solutions PFML experts Mary McNally and employment lawyer and VP, Tom Jones. They will discuss the recent updates to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and provide further clarity on the new guidance.

AIM Members can also download the Leaves of Absence Guide at no-cost.

EEOC Provides COVID-Related Information to Employers

EEOC Information

The FAQs, which address all COVID-related issues, are here.

The EEOC added a new section to the FAQs, Section K, in mid December.  Here it is:

  1. Vaccinations

The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations may raise questions about the applicability of various equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, including the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, GINA, and Title VII, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (see Section J, EEO rights relating to pregnancy).  The EEO laws do not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC or other federal, state, and local public health authorities’ guidelines and suggestions.

ADA and Vaccinations

K.1. For any COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine to an employee by an employer (or by a third party with whom the employer contracts to administer a vaccine) a “medical examination” for purposes of the ADA? (12/16/20)

No.  The vaccination itself is not a medical examination.  As the Commission explained in guidance on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, a medical examination is “a procedure or test usually given by a health care professional or in a medical setting that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.”  Examples include “vision tests; blood, urine, and breath analyses; blood pressure screening and cholesterol testing; and diagnostic procedures, such as x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs.”  If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.

Although the administration of a vaccination is not a medical examination, pre-screening vaccination questions may implicate the ADA’s provision on disability-related inquiries, which are inquiries likely to elicit information about a disability.  If the employer administers the vaccine, it must show that such pre-screening questions it asks employees are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  See Question K.2.

K.2. According to the CDC, health care providers should ask certain questions before administering a vaccine to ensure that there is no medical reason that would prevent the person from receiving the vaccination. If the employer requires an employee to receive the vaccination from the employer (or a third party with whom the employer contracts to administer a vaccine) and asks these screening questions, are these questions subject to the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries? (12/16/20)

Yes.  Pre-vaccination medical screening questions are likely to elicit information about a disability.  This means that such questions, if asked by the employer or a contractor on the employer’s behalf, are “disability-related” under the ADA.  Thus, if the employer requires an employee to receive the vaccination, administered by the employer, the employer must show that these disability-related screening inquiries are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  To meet this standard, an employer would need to have a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee who does not answer the questions and, therefore, does not receive a vaccination, will pose a direct threat to the health or safety of her or himself or others.  See Question K.5. below for a discussion of direct threat.

By contrast, there are two circumstances in which disability-related screening questions can be asked without needing to satisfy the “job-related and consistent with business necessity” requirement.  First, if an employer has offered a vaccination to employees on a voluntary basis (i.e. employees choose whether to be vaccinated), the ADA requires that the employee’s decision to answer pre-screening, disability-related questions also must be voluntary.  42 U.S.C. 12112(d)(4)(B)29 C.F.R. 1630.14(d).  If an employee chooses not to answer these questions, the employer may decline to administer the vaccine but may not retaliate against, intimidate, or threaten the employee for refusing to answer any questions.  Second, if an employee receives an employer-required vaccination from a third party that does not have a contract with the employer, such as a pharmacy or other health care provider, the ADA “job-related and consistent with business necessity” restrictions on disability-related inquiries would not apply to the pre-vaccination medical screening questions.

The ADA requires employers to keep any employee medical information obtained in the course of the vaccination program confidential.

K.3. Is asking or requiring an employee to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination a disability-related inquiry? (12/16/20)

No.  There are many reasons that may explain why an employee has not been vaccinated, which may or may not be disability-related.  Simply requesting proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not likely to elicit information about a disability and, therefore, is not a disability-related inquiry.  However, subsequent employer questions, such as asking why an individual did not receive a vaccination, may elicit information about a disability and would be subject to the pertinent ADA standard that they be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  If an employer requires employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination from a pharmacy or their own health care provider, the employer may want to warn the employee not to provide any medical information as part of the proof in order to avoid implicating the ADA.

ADA and Title VII Issues Regarding Mandatory Vaccinations

K.4. Where can employers learn more about Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) of COVID-19 vaccines? (12/16/20)

Some COVID-19 vaccines may only be available to the public for the foreseeable future under EUA granted by the FDA, which is different than approval under FDA vaccine licensure. The FDA has an obligation to:

[E]nsure that recipients of the vaccine under an EUA are informed, to the extent practicable under the applicable circumstances, that FDA has authorized the emergency use of the vaccine, of the known and potential benefits and risks, the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown, that they have the option to accept or refuse the vaccine, and of any available alternatives to the product.

The FDA says that this information is typically conveyed in a patient fact sheet that is provided at the time of the vaccine administration and that it posts the fact sheets on its website.  More information about EUA vaccines is available on the FDA’s EUA page.

K.5. If an employer requires vaccinations when they are available, how should it respond to an employee who indicates that he or she is unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because of a disability? (12/16/20)

The ADA allows an employer to have a qualification standard that includes “a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.”

However, if a safety-based qualification standard, such as a vaccination requirement, screens out or tends to screen out an individual with a disability, the employer must show that an unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat due to a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”  29 C.F.R. 1630.2(r).

Employers should conduct an individualized assessment of four factors in determining whether a direct threat exists: the duration of the risk; the nature and severity of the potential harm; the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and the imminence of the potential harm.  A conclusion that there is a direct threat would include a determination that an unvaccinated individual will expose others to the virus at the worksite.

If an employer determines that an individual who cannot be vaccinated due to disability poses a direct threat at the worksite, the employer cannot exclude the employee from the workplace—or take any other action—unless there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship) that would eliminate or reduce this risk so the unvaccinated employee does not pose a direct threat.

If there is a direct threat that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the employer can exclude the employee from physically entering the workplace, but this does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.  Employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.  For example, if an employer excludes an employee based on an inability to accommodate a request to be exempt from a vaccination requirement, the employee may be entitled to accommodations such as performing the current position remotely. This is the same step that employers take when physically excluding employees from a worksite due to a current COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms; some workers may be entitled to telework or, if not, may be eligible to take leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, under the FMLA, or under the employer’s policies. See also Section J, EEO rights relating to pregnancy.

Managers and supervisors responsible for communicating with employees about compliance with the employer’s vaccination requirement should know how to recognize an accommodation request from an employee with a disability and know to whom the request should be referred for consideration.  Employers and employees should engage in a flexible, interactive process to identify workplace accommodation options that do not constitute an undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense).  This process should include determining whether it is necessary to obtain supporting documentation about the employee’s disability and considering the possible options for accommodation given the nature of the workforce and the employee’s position.

The prevalence in the workplace of employees who already have received a COVID-19 vaccination and the amount of contact with others, whose vaccination status could be unknown, may impact the undue hardship consideration.  In discussing accommodation requests, employers and employees also may find it helpful to consult the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website as a resource for different types of accommodations, www.askjan.org.  JAN’s materials specific to COVID-19 are at https://askjan.org/topics/COVID-19.cfm.

Employers may rely on CDC recommendations when deciding whether an effective accommodation that would not pose an undue hardship is available, but as explained further in Question K.7., there may be situations where an accommodation is not possible.  When an employer makes this decision, the facts about particular job duties and workplaces may be relevant.  Employers also should consult applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and guidance.  Employers can find OSHA COVID-specific resources at: www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/.

Managers and supervisors are reminded that it is unlawful to disclose that an employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation or retaliate against an employee for requesting an accommodation.

K.6. If an employer requires vaccinations when they are available, how should it respond to an employee who indicates that he or she is unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because of a sincerely held religious practice or belief? (12/16/20)

Once an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from receiving the vaccination, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice, or observance unless it would pose an undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Courts have defined “undue hardship” under Title VII as having more than a de minimis cost or burden on the employer. EEOC guidance explains that because the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices, and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar, the employer should ordinarily assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief.  If, however, an employee requests a religious accommodation, and an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance, the employer would be justified in requesting additional supporting information.

K.7. What happens if an employer cannot exempt or provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who cannot comply with a mandatory vaccine policy because of a disability or sincerely held religious practice or belief? (12/16/20)

If an employee cannot get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, and there is no reasonable accommodation possible, then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace.  This does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.  Employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.

Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and Vaccinations

K.8. Is Title II of GINA implicated when an employer administers a COVID-19 vaccine to employees or requires employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination? (12/16/20)

No. Administering a COVID-19 vaccination to employees or requiring employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination does not implicate Title II of GINA because it does not involve the use of genetic information to make employment decisions, or the acquisition or disclosure of “genetic information” as defined by the statute. This includes vaccinations that use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which will be discussed more below.  As noted in Question K.9. however, if administration of the vaccine requires pre-screening questions that ask about genetic information, the inquiries seeking genetic information, such as family members’ medical histories, may violate GINA.

Under Title II of GINA, employers may not (1) use genetic information to make decisions related to the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment, (2) acquire genetic information except in six narrow circumstances, or (3) disclose genetic information except in six narrow circumstances.

Certain COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA technology. This raises questions about genetics and, specifically, about whether such vaccines modify a recipient’s genetic makeup and, therefore, whether requiring an employee to get the vaccine as a condition of employment is an unlawful use of genetic information.  The CDC has explained that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines “do not interact with our DNA in any way” and “mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept.” (See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html for a detailed discussion about how mRNA vaccines work).  Thus, requiring employees to get the vaccine, whether it uses mRNA technology or not, does not violate GINA’s prohibitions on using, acquiring, or disclosing genetic information.

K.9. Does asking an employee the pre-vaccination screening questions before administering a COVID-19 vaccine implicate Title II of GINA? (12/16/20)

Pre-vaccination medical screening questions are likely to elicit information about disability, as discussed in Question K.2., and may elicit information about genetic information, such as questions regarding the immune systems of family members.  It is not yet clear what screening checklists for contraindications will be provided with COVID-19 vaccinations.

GINA defines “genetic information” to mean:

Information about an individual’s genetic tests;

Information about the genetic tests of a family member;

Information about the manifestation of disease or disorder in a family member (i.e., family medical history);

Information about requests for, or receipt of, genetic services or the participation in clinical research that includes genetic services by the an individual or a family member of the individual; and

Genetic information about a fetus carried by an individual or family member or of an embryo legally held by an individual or family member using assisted reproductive technology.

29 C.F.R. § 1635.3(c).  If the pre-vaccination questions do not include any questions about genetic information (including family medical history), then asking them does not implicate GINA.  However, if the pre-vaccination questions do include questions about genetic information, then employers who want to ensure that employees have been vaccinated may want to request proof of vaccination instead of administering the vaccine themselves.

GINA does not prohibit an individual employee’s own health care provider from asking questions about genetic information, but it does prohibit an employer or a doctor working for the employer from asking questions about genetic information.  If an employer requires employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination from their own health care provider, the employer may want to warn the employee not to provide genetic information as part of the proof.  As long as this warning is provided, any genetic information the employer receives in response to its request for proof of vaccination will be considered inadvertent and therefore not unlawful under GINA.  See 29 CFR 1635.8(b)(1)(i) for model language that can be used for this warning.

Helpful Resources for the Paycheck Protection Program

Top-line-Overview-of-Second-Draw-PPP.pdf (treasury.gov)

KLR – Registration (gotowebinar.com)

SBA Posts Interim Final Rules Implementing Changes to First Draw and Second Draw Loans under the Paycheck Protection Program | Seyfarth Shaw LLP

The Small Business Administration recently released new guidance governing the reopening of the Paycheck Protection Program. This guidance comes in the form of an Interim Final RuleInterim Final Rule on Second Draw PPP Loans,  and Guidance on Accessing Capital for Minority, Underserved, Veteran, and Women-Owned Business Concerns. In addition, see the press release for highlights of the programmatic changes made to PPP via the recently-passed federal stimulus.

Several key program changes include:

  • Allows past recipients to receive a “Second Draw” from PPP
  • Makes 501(c)6 nonprofits (like Chambers of Commerce) eligible applicants, among other types of organizations
  • Allows borrowers to set their covered loan period to any length from 8-24 weeks to allow additional flexibility
  • Expands what is an eligible forgivable expense to include costs, including adaptive operations expenditures, property damage costs, technology operations, supplier costs, and worker protection expenditures
  • Clarifies that PPP loans are tax-free and eligible expenses paid with PPP proceeds are tax-deductible
  • Caps First Draw loans at $10 million and Second Draw loans at $2 million
  • Allows Accommodations and Food Service businesses to obtain loans calculated at 3.5x average monthly payroll

As with prior implementations of PPP, businesses can apply for a forgivable loan via SBA lenders and should speak to their lender to discuss an application. Effective today, community lenders (community development financial institutions, minority depository institutions, certified development companies, and microloan intermediaries, more here) are able to offer PPP loans to applicants that have not yet received a loan; on January 13th, these lenders will be able to offer loans to “Second Draw” applicants. All lenders will be authorized to offer the program shortly; the date has not yet been announced. For additional information on PPP, forms and other information, visit www.sba.gov/ppp.

When Will People be able to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The Boston Globe – The slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines has raised a host of questions about how state residents will know when it’s their turn to be immunized. With limited vaccines available and fewer shots being administered than promised, the Globe asked Dr. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital and chair of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group, to explain what residents should expect in the coming weeks and months.

When will people know it’s their turn to get the vaccine?

Biddinger referred to a state website that officials frequently update with the status of different phases of the vaccine rollout. Phase 1, which is ongoing, prioritizes health care workers, those living in long-term-care facilities, and first responders. Phase 2, which is slated to begin in February, focuses on individuals 75 and older and younger people with at least two or more medical conditions that put them at elevated risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The general public will be immunized in Stage 3, slated to begin in April.

“Many physicians’ practices are also building mechanisms to inform patients when they become eligible, either through e-mail, texts, or phone calls,” he said. “Everyone understands that it’s not reasonable to expect people to continually monitor the website, so local and state leaders are also discussing other communications strategies to make sure people are aware.”

What about people who don’t have a primary care physician?

Biddinger said commercial pharmacies will be administering vaccines, and that residents should seek information about the eligibility for the vaccine from local public health departments.

“We believe there will be several large-scale vaccination clinics set up, in places like conference spaces, gyms, or armories. Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and other large areas have been mentioned as well and are being looked at,” he said. “If a resident doesn’t have a primary care physician, they’ll need to look at state messaging, the state’s website, and the media to know when they are eligible for vaccination.”

Will residents have to make an appointment with their doctor, clinic, or pharmacy to get vaccinated?

In most cases, they likely will, he said. That’s because there’s a mandatory 15-minute waiting period after someone gets the vaccine, so medical staff can observe if they have an adverse reaction. Appointments also reduce the need for waiting spaces.

“There could be real queuing problems if everyone came at the same time, and we want to avoid long lines for physical distancing,” he said. “There may be some walk-in options, but for the most part, people will need to schedule an appointment.”

At the end of a given day, there may be extra doses of vaccine, because some might not show up for their appointments. So some clinics may make last-minute contingency plans for the end of the day, so doses aren’t wasted. Vaccines must be used within six hours once a vial has been punctured. The vials have five doses in them.

When should residents contact their doctors about getting the vaccine? Is this something they should do soon?

Physicians’ offices are not scheduling vaccinations now, because Massachusetts remains in the first phase of its plan, limiting vaccines to first responders, nursing home residents, and others considered “critical” personnel. “When the state announces that it is moving into Phase 2 or 3, patients who believe that they are eligible should contact their doctors, if they have not already received outreach from those practices,” Biddinger said.

He said the state has plans for drive-through vaccination locations and other mass vaccination sites.

“No one in the state wants to have vaccination vials sitting on shelves, so efforts are focused on administering the vaccine as soon as it arrives to those eligible,” he said. “Everyone wants to vaccinate the public as quickly as we have supply, so we can move into the next phases.”

Who determines if a resident has sufficient “comorbidities,” such as heart conditions and obesity, to make them eligible to receive the vaccine in the second phase?

“The medical systems are searching medical records to help identify patients with those comorbidities, hopefully making it easier to identify eligible patients,” he said. People are unlikely to have to show evidence they have a comorbidity, he said. “Obviously, it’s really important for patients and for systems to honestly follow the rules,” he said. “More information on how this will be assured is likely to come soon.”

Will residents have a choice of vaccines?

Probably not, given how limited the supply remains. “There’s so much complexity in administering, there’s no real option to provide a choice at this point,” he said. Biddinger said he wouldn’t have a preference between the two. “They’re equally effective and equally safe,” he said. “There are only limited differences.”

The Moderna vaccine, for example, is approved for those age 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is for those ages 16 and up. There are also rare allergies associated with each that may affect a small number of people.

Other vaccines, if approved, could increase supply and potentially give residents more of a choice.

When will children be eligible for the vaccine?

It will be at least several months, as clinical trials must be conducted before federal regulators would sanction their use in children, he said. The trials have to enroll large numbers of young patients. Pfizer and Moderna started testing the vaccine in children ages 12 and older in November and December.

“I expect it won’t be until late spring before children could be eligible, at the earliest,” Biddinger said. “For younger children, it’s unclear when they will be eligible.”

Will those who get an initial dose be assured of getting the second dose?

As soon as a dose is administered, the second dose is automatically assigned to that person, he said. They will be scheduled to receive their second doses while getting their first dose. Doses, however, aren’t left on a shelf for them, they’re automatically ordered and accounted for later when they’re needed. “That’s the way it has happened so far, and we’ve been receiving our second doses, as promised,” he said.

As of Thursday, the federal government had shipped more than 21 million vaccine doses, but only 5.9 million people had received a dose. On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team said his administration plans to release nearly all available doses “to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible.” Biden has promised to administer 100 million doses by his 100th day in office.

How long will the vaccines provide immunity?

“There are hints that we’ll have durable immunity for at least three months, but at this point, because we don’t have the data yet, there’s no way to say whether it’s a year or longer,” he said.

When will the average person expect to get a vaccine?

Biddinger said the timing still looks like April for when most people will be eligible. That depends on the stability of the supply chain and assumes that at least one or two other vaccines also receive emergency approval from federal regulators. “There’s so much unknown that we cannot predict this with certainty,” he said.

Trump Administration Urges States to Vaccinate People 65 and Older

NPR – The Trump administration is making several big changes to its COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, officials announced Tuesday, in a bid to jump-start the rollout and get more Americans vaccinated quickly.

The first change is to call on states to expand immediately the pool of people eligible to receive vaccines to those 65 and older, and those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

“We’re telling states today that they should open vaccinations to all of their most vulnerable people. That is the most effective way to save lives now,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a press briefing Tuesday.

The call is accompanied by a change in how vaccine doses are allocated to states. Currently, doses are given to states based on their total adult populations. Starting in two weeks, vaccines will be distributed to states based on the number of over 65-year-olds who live there — and by the pace of vaccine administration reported by states.

“[This new allocation system] gives states a strong incentive to ensure doses are going to work, protecting people rather than sitting on shelves or in freezers,” Azar said at the press briefing, “We need doses going to where they’ll be administered quickly and where they’ll protect the most vulnerable.”

The administration is also urging states to expand vaccination to more venues, such as convention center “mega-sites,” pharmacies and community health centers.

In addition, senior officials announced they would stop holding second doses of the vaccines in reserve and instead ship more doses to states right away.

“Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve,” Azar said. “We’re now making the full reserve of doses we have available for order, [and] we are 100% committed to ensuring a second dose is available for every American who receives the first dose.”

The change in releasing more of the previously reserved doses of vaccine preempts a policy change the Biden team announced last week. Officials from the Biden team declined to comment on Tuesday’s policy announcements.

State Awards Another $78.5 Million in Grants to 1,595 Businesses

The Baker Administration announced $78.5 million in awards to 1,595 additional small businesses in the third round of grants through the COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.

To date, the administration has awarded close to $195 million in direct financial support to 4,119 small businesses out of a $668 million fund set up to support small businesses across the Commonwealth.

Additional grants will be announced in the coming weeks for thousands of additional businesses.

“Our administration set up a $668 million grant program to support small businesses statewide that are struggling from COVID-19 impacts,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Today, we are awarding our third round of grants, for a total of $195 million in direct financial support for over 4,000 small businesses, with more yet to come. Supporting small businesses is vital to our economic recovery, and we’ll continue to expedite this grant process to send out funds to provide some much-needed financial relief.”

“Understanding how significant the need for financial assistance is, we’ve taken important steps to ensure these resources are directed toward the businesses that have historically been at a disadvantage even before the pandemic, or are located in communities, especially Gateway Cities, that have suffered disproportionately because of this virus,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “I’m grateful for the partnership with MGCC to provide this important assistance, and I look forward to the coming weeks when we can award even more support for the economic sectors that are most in need.”

State Department of Unemployment Assistance Implements Federal Stimulus

The state is currently implementing unemployment-related provisions from the most recent federal stimulus. Key details on these programs can be found here to assist claimants with questions about their continuation of benefits.

Boston Fed Chief Sees Tailwinds Beyond Slow Vaccine Rollout

State House News – While the development and approval of two effective COVID-19 vaccines offer great promise that the public health crisis inflicted by COVID-19 will soon fade, the sputtering rollout of the vaccines is bogging down the economic recovery, the leader of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said Tuesday.

Many of the uncertainties that clouded the view when Boston Fed President and CEO Eric Rosengren spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce more than eight months ago — Can we develop a vaccine for this virus? How will federal policymakers respond? — “have been resolved in a positive way,” he said in an address to the chamber Tuesday. But an underlying truth remains: a public health recovery is a precondition for an economic recovery.

“So, in the near term, we have to be very concerned about how we solve the public health problem. First of all, by trying to make sure that infections remain as small as possible. And second, trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible in the shortest amount of time,” he said.

Rosengren later added, “Unfortunately the inoculation rate at least to date has been relatively disappointing. Hopefully over the next several months, we’ll see some additional efficiencies in getting the vaccine not only distributed to the states but actually getting it into the arms of people.”

“Until that happens, we’re not going to have a full recovery,” he said.

About 27.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed nationwide and about 9.33 million people have received at least the first of two doses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In Massachusetts, just more than 476,000 doses have been distributed and just more than 204,000 people here have received the first shot, the CDC said.

Mass Vaccination Site at Gillette Stadium

State House News – Gillette Stadium has been home to a near-undefeated football season, two outdoor hockey games, a Major League Soccer final, dozens of concerts, and next week, it will host another landmark event: the first mass vaccination site in Massachusetts.

In six days, Gillette will open its doors to hundreds of first responders per day who can receive COVID-19 vaccinations, then continue to scale up capacity to serve more people as they become eligible, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday.

After touring the Worcester Senior Center that started vaccinating first responders on Monday, Baker said the stadium will become the first of several locations to host large-scale immunization efforts in the state.

“These vaccines are safe and effective, and millions of doctors, nurses and health care workers are getting vaccinated across our country,” Baker said. “This is a huge step forward in our fight.”

Massachusetts started making COVID-19 vaccines available to police, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency personnel on Monday at more than 100 local sites and individual departments.

The Worcester Senior Center alone surpassed its initial capacity and hosted 376 vaccinations on Monday, Baker said, citing an “overwhelmingly positive response from first responders to get vaccinated.”

When Baker unveiled a plan last week to vaccinate the more than 45,000 first responders in the state, he said mass vaccination sites would serve as a key pillar to support the effort and then expand to other populations.

Tuesday’s announcement puts a clear timeline on the start of that segment: on Thursday, staff who will administer the vaccinations will receive their own vaccines, and then Gillette will open to first responders on Monday. Those eligible can schedule appointments at mass.gov/covidvaccine.

CIC Health will operate the site, while Brigham and Women’s Hospital will serve as medical director and Fallon Ambulance will support clinical staff.