In this Formaspace management report, we outline the facts you need to know about the newest Covid vaccine boosters.
The Rollout of the Bivalent Covid Vaccine Boosters for Ba.4 / Ba.5 Has Begun
On August 31, 2022, the FDA approved new Covid vaccine boosters in the US.
These are “bivalent” vaccines, meaning they incorporate two different active vaccines. One targets the original Covid virus and the other targets the highly-transmissible Omicron variants Ba.4 and Ba.5 that have been circulating in the US throughout much of 2022.
Are We Moving to Annual or Semi-Annual Covid Vaccine Campaigns?
As we’ve learned over the past year, the Covid virus is capable of changing (mutating) rapidly, much like the Influenza virus that causes the Flu.
A consequence of this is that the CDC is now calling these new shots the “Fall Booster Vaccine” – implying that we will likely see annual or even semi-annual campaigns to encourage people to get the latest available Covid vaccines (much like the annual Flu shot.)
Benefits Managers should consider this in their employee healthcare management programs and consider coordinating the rollout of these updated Covid vaccines with annual Flu shot campaigns.
Which Employees are Eligible for the new Covid Vaccine Boosters from Pfizer and Moderna?
Federal health officials are expressing confidence that there won’t be a shortage of these new Covid booster vaccines, and so, at present, there are no published priority lists or restrictions on who can receive the vaccine.
Who is eligible?
According to the FDA, people 12 and up are eligible for the updated Pfizer vaccine, while those 18 and up are eligible for the Moderna one. Also, the FDA considers the shots interchangeable, meaning you can switch brands since receiving your earlier vaccine(s).
These new boosters are targeted at those individuals who have already completed their original (primary) Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax vaccine – or any subsequent booster(s) – but you need to wait at least two months before getting this new booster vaccine.
However, individuals who have never received a Covid vaccine before, or received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should consult with their medical provider, who will likely recommend they get a primary vaccination from Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax first before getting the new bivalent booster shot two months later.
Also, anyone who has had Covid recently should wait until 90 days after they are well again before getting vaccinated with these new booster shots. This will help maximize the body’s immune system response against the virus.
In all cases, individuals should consult with their medical providers to discuss any drug allergies or other health conditions before taking this or any other vaccine.
Important Changes to Government Covid Vaccine Reimbursements that Benefits Managers Need to Know About
According to reports from Federal agencies, the government won’t be as generous as before when it comes to reimbursements for the new Covid booster vaccines.
During the height of the pandemic, the Feds generally picked up the tab for Covid vaccines, e.g., for individuals who went to their local pharmacy or visited their local health department for a shot.
That’s no longer the case. The new reimbursement policy will now be similar to those of other vaccines, such as the flu shot.
This means that your employees who visit a local pharmacy may be asked to provide their health insurance information for reimbursement (if applicable), and/or they may be asked for a direct payment.
In a related policy shift, the Federal government has also curtailed sending out free rapid Covid tests to households.
The bottom line? Benefits Managers may want to investigate and identify what costs their employees may have to pay and update their compensation plans – or make arrangements for “free” Covid vaccines through specific partners or conduct a vaccination drive to help increase Covid vaccination rates among their workforce.
What is Your Current Corporate Sick Day Policy for Covid? Does it Encourage Presenteeism?
During the height of the pandemic, some companies revised their sick day policies to encourage people to get vaccinated, offering a greater number of days off (or even higher medical coverage benefits) for those who chose to get vaccinated against Covid.
These policies seem to have faded into the background as the number of Covid deaths has receded.
Nevertheless, it’s important to review your current healthcare policies to assess whether they are in good alignment with today’s conditions.
For example, consider the effect a fresh outbreak of Covid could have on your company’s operations. Are you doing enough to prevent this?
· Preventing Presenteeism:
Do your current sick day policies inadvertently encourage an ill individual to come into work where they can infect others?
· Detecting Covid at Work
Given that the Feds have stopped sending out free rapid tests to households, your company may want to stockpile tests to identify if any workers experiencing flu-like symptoms have Covid.
New Research Points to Updated Clinical Treatment Protocols for Covid
During the height of the Covid pandemic, there was great uncertainty about the best clinical treatments for patients with Covid.
As time has passed, new medical research has been published.
Drugs used for other medical conditions, such as ivermectin and metformin, have been shown to have negligible benefits against Covid. The FDA also withdrew the emergency use authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ) to treat Covid due to their lack of effectiveness.
On the other hand, monoclonal antibody treatments (derived from blood products of individuals who recovered from Covid) were found to be effective; however, as the Covid virus mutated and the Omicron variant became dominant, the limited supply of monoclonal antibody treatments was found to be ineffective against the newer variants.
The FDA has also given an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s antiviral Covid treatment, known as Paxlovid, which is an oral dose administered over 5 days. Paxlovid, along with Merck’s antiviral Lagevrio, is an antiviral treatment designed to help suppress active Covid symptoms and reduce severe hospitalizations. However, many patients using Paxlovid complain that the symptoms reappear after the end of 5 days of treatment, an effect known as Covid rebound. Researchers are trying to determine if this is a natural effect of the virus and/or if the treatment should be extended beyond 5 days.
(TIP: Many Paxlovid patients swear by the use of flavored chewing gum to mask the bitter aftertaste of the medication.)
Long Covid is Affecting a Growing Number of Employees. Could this Lead to a Rise in Disability Claims?
“Long Covid” is a bigger risk than many of us first anticipated.
It’s not only affecting a larger number of patients (now estimated at 1 in 5), many of these patients are experiencing serious or even debilitating symptoms for months – and they could be permanent.
Thus, Long Covid should be on the radar of Benefits Managers for several reasons.
First, it underscores the need for prevention due to the high healthcare costs and time off Long Covid patients require. Getting employees and their families vaccinated with the newest available shots will help reduce the chances of these cases emerging.
Second, Benefits Managers need to understand their potential exposure to any eventual long-term disability cases arising from Long Covid cases. At present, the Brookings Institution estimates that over 2 million Americans are not working due to Long Covid, representing a loss of $3.7 trillion to the economy.
If these case levels persist or even go higher, the Federal government may eventually intervene and provide some form of relief, but that’s not something to count on at present.
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