COVID-19 jab for oral health care workers: Protection against virus or condition of employment?
ALEXANDRIA, Va., U.S.: Months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, it is clear that, although millions of vaccines doses have been administered and significant progress has been made in the fight against the virus, it will be impossible to get the whole world vaccinated, both because of limited access to vaccines in some countries and because not everyone accepts COVID-19 jabs, despite their availability. In light of vaccine hesitancy, some oral health care organizations are urging the government to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory in order to ensure the highest protection level for all workers and suggesting that the mandate should serve as a condition of employment.
According to the World Health Organization, by September 6, 2021, a total of 5,352,927,296 vaccine doses had been administered. Although the number is relatively high, recent studies have found that vaccine hesitancy is evident among health care workers, including dental students, for reasons such as distrust in the government, safety concerns, and conflicting and confusing information in the media.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not mandate vaccination. However, it is said on its website that states, local governments or employers may require or mandate COVID-19 vaccination if this is following state or other applicable law. Nevertheless, medical exemptions and religious exemptions apply.
Some of the federal and state governments in the U.S. are already requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to limit the spread of the virus. Following in their footsteps, a dozen oral health care organizations, including the American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research (AADOCR), have recently issued a statement in which they urge the government to mandate compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for all oral health care workers, including oral health care students, residents, volunteers, part-time clinical faculty and independent contractors. In the same statement, it is suggested that COVID-19 vaccination should serve as a condition of employment and that the mandate should be applied to all employees of an oral health care facility, such as a dental office, clinic or academic dental institution.
FDA approves first COVID-19 vaccine
In late August, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, which is now being marketed as Comirnaty. The approval is planned to help build vaccine confidence and might serve as an incentive for the introduction of vaccine mandates in public sectors, including in the oral health sector.
“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a press release. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.,” she continued.
“The FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated”
– FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock
In response to the first COVID-19 vaccine approval, the AADOCR stated in a press release: “The August 23, 2021 announcement from the FDA granting full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older adds the highest level of support for the safety and efficacy of this vaccine. Full approval of the two other vaccines currently available under emergency use authorization is expected in the coming weeks.”
According to the AADOCR, vaccine mandates are also backed by President Biden, who has previously noted that business leaders and nonprofit leaders should use the approval to demand that their employees be vaccinated or face serious consequences.
“As leaders in health care and research, we must advocate for policies supported by the best available scientific evidence,” AADOCR President Prof. Jacques E. Nör, the director of the Nör laboratory at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, said in the press release. “In this case, the COVID-19 vaccine is clearly necessary for the health and safety of oral health care workers and for the health and safety of the patients we serve,” he continued.
American Dental Association (ADA) still not backing vaccine mandates
Whereas an increasing number of oral health care organizations are backing vaccine mandates for oral health care workers, the ADA has previously noted that it does not back compulsory vaccination within the oral care workforce but advocates for voluntary vaccination.
Commenting on its stance, the ADA told Dental Tribune International: “In June, the ADA Health Policy Institute found that nearly 90% of dentists reported being fully vaccinated for COVID-19, while 93.4% of dentists reported receiving at least one dose. Prior to COVID-19 vaccine administration, research in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed that fewer than 1% of dentists nationwide were found to be COVID-19 positive, according to data collected in June 2020. In addition, 99% of dentists reported using enhanced infection control procedures such as screening protocols and enhanced disinfection practices when treating patients.”
The organization added that it is following vaccination guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that it strongly encourages all members to get vaccinated and to encourage their team members to do the same. It noted: “While the ADA is not a regulatory agency calling for a nationwide vaccination mandate, we are urging state and local dental societies to consider all the public health strategies available to them, based on the exposure risks in their area.”