Dr Anthony Harris on Short-, Long-Term Impact of a COVID-19 Vaccine in the Workplace

Although a vaccine against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is now in the fold, Americans should expect to remain in their current work environment in the short term, with potential long-term implications spanning the next 5 years.

Although a vaccine against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is now in the fold, Americans should expect to remain in their current work environment in the short term, with potential long-term implications spanning the next 5 years, said Anthony Harris, MD, MBA, MPH, chief innovation officer and associate medical director for WorkCare.


AJMC®: Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences’ Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome Dr Anthony Harris, chief innovation officer and associate medical director for WorkCare.

Great to have you on, Anthony. Can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work?

Dr Harris: Sure, thank you, Matt. My name is Anthony Harris, board certified in occupational environmental medicine. I've been practicing for about a decade now. I serve at WorkCare, as you said, as the chief innovation officer and lead doc for their COVID-19 operations as well. We've been helping companies nationwide now address COVID-19 since February and March of this year.

It's been overwhelming in terms of the opportunity to help keep the workforce safe from a preventive standpoint before COVID-19 hit and now during this age of COVID-19–being very blessed to be able to help out as much as we can.

AJMC®: What are some challenges that employers should consider when contemplating a potential return to the workplace? What advice has WorkCare given on these matters?

Dr Harris: You bet. So, the name of the game in terms of vaccination for COVID-19 is going to be logistics, logistics, and logistics. First, on the front end, getting access for your workforce to the vaccine is going to be paramount in terms of partnering with your local providers, as well as the state health departments. And that distribution process is still evolving.

Beyond access to the vaccine, it’s going to be how we are tracking individuals when you're contemplating a return to work. Obviously, those individuals who received the vaccine can be kind of moved to the front of the line, if you will, in terms of coming back, but we got to remember, there's 2 doses to this vaccine.

So, tracking those who received the first dose and then following up in 3 weeks to receive the second dose. Realizing that we're going to have some attrition of people who will fail to get that second dose timely will be an issue. So, finding smart tools.

WorkCare has been and will be providing resources to providers, as well as to the clinics to help man the kind of tracking, if you would, of all these different operations. And from state to state, they'll be a little different, but rest assured, we'll get it all figured out here pretty soon.

AJMC®: Looking forward to 2021 with a vaccine now in the fold, what can Americans expect their workplaces to look like in the short term and from a long-term perspective as well?

Dr Harris: So, in the short term, what we know is that this sense of normalcy is not going to return anytime soon. And so everyone needs to prepare to continue as we have been as of right now. So, if you're home working remotely, you're probably going to be home working remotely for the next 6 months. If you are back in the workforce or you never left the workforce because you're an essential, critical worker, then we know you're going to continue to put measures, or maintain those measures, in place of hand hygiene, wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

It's really complicated by some of those scenarios in which you can't social distance in the workplace. And we deal with those workforces very often. In those circumstances, we’re even recommending wearing personal protective equipment like N95 or KN95 ][masks] and then having a proactive program in place for COVID-19 testing. We have been testing on site with clients, and we've been providing remote testing with saliva, and that's going to continue and escalate as we move forward here. Because again, we know the vaccine will be some time off until next year, and the workplace will still be something that has to maintain these protocols for safety of the workforce as well as the families when you go home.

In the long term, we're expecting to deal with COVID-19 probably for the next 5 years. And if that being the case, even Tony Fauci [Anthony S. Fauci, MD] has said that, if that's the case, which we anticipate, then there's going to be a seasonality to this, most likely in terms of preparing for COVID-19 season, getting vaccinated ahead of time. And that being all conducted at the epicenter of work is what we believe will happen.

We know that mandate will be likely for vaccinations for the workplace. And much as we see with the mandate from institutions, those attending college have to be vaccinated right now for other diseases, aside from COVID-19. That's going to play most likely into a COVID-19 vaccination requirement. And we'll probably see cities adopt that as well. So, those in the workforce who work from municipalities will have to be vaccinated, as well as the patrons who use mass transit and other city-offered resources. So, we're in it for the long haul, unfortunately.

AJMC®: Building on something you just said, in addition to employers, how can schools and universities nationwide optimally integrate a COVID-19 vaccine in their institutions, and what issues may complicate this transition to a post–COVID-19 world?

Dr Harris: Sure, the integration hopefully will be straightforward as what universities and institutions have done with the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine programs are very robust these days, and getting that flu vaccine distributed and then administered to individuals is something that most institutions would be used to. The wrinkle in this COVID-19 vaccine is that most, if not all, vaccines that we see moving forward in the pipeline of phase 2 and phase 3 clinical trials are a 2-vaccination program.

So, tracking those who have received the first dose and ensuring that they received that second dose of the exact same vaccine—meaning you can't go get Pfizer’s and then Moderna’s vaccine; it doesn't work that way. And so tracking that and making sure we're not administering the wrong vaccine to an individual in follow-up is going to be critical. That'll be the first kind of wrinkle, or hurdle, logistically.

The second is going to be—particularly for Pfizer and Moderna, who are the leaders in regards to the vaccine coming online—the cold storage or the cold chain, in other words. And that cold chain is, in this case, –70° for the Pfizer vaccine. Having the facilities to maintain that low temperature, and then monitoring it so that we can ensure the efficacy of the vaccine when it is administered will be another logistical hurdle. And we're already seeing the cold storage devices fly off the shelf, so to speak, in terms of supply and demand, but hopefully the manufacturers will be ramping up these resources for us in the clinical world so that we can provide these resources again to our patients.

AJMC®: Lastly, do you have any other concluding thoughts?

Dr Harris: Sure, we can talk about something we call COVID Clear Zone. It’s just a simple mantra of trying to make sure that your institution, your workplace, and even the retail outlets that you visit are doing the best that they can to keep individuals safe both from an employee standpoint, as well as from a patron standpoint. And COVID Clear Zone just refers to what we're used to.

Are they using masks? First and foremost. Are they practicing social distancing? And then, are they providing the hand hygiene needed to keep people safe from a standpoint of physical touch. And there's a number of other bullet points to the COVID Clear Zone when we talk about testing and preventive approaches to doing surveillance testing, as well as post exposure and then, obviously, symptomatic testing.

These things are tremendously important to continue forward in making sure that we're maintaining safety for everyone, both at the workplace and in the community. So, if you want to check it out, you can check us out at COVIDClearZone.com as well as Workcare.com to learn more.

AJMC®: To learn more, visit our website at ajmc.com. I’m Matthew Gavidia, thanks for joining us!