TASB Risk Management Fund

COVID-19 Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

September 07, 2021 David Wylie

Nurse giving COVID-19 vaccine to elderly woman

The Fund has been fielding questions from members who want more information about COVID-19 vaccines. We compiled our guidance to help you understand the rollout process, manage the risks, and make the best decision for your organization and your employees.

This article is based on scientific research and guidance from healthcare professionals and regulatory agencies as of the date above. We will update the information as appropriate, so check back regularly.

Vaccine basics for employees

Liability questions

Other considerations for leadership

Vaccine basics for employees

Scientists and health care professionals have delivered multiple COVID-19 vaccines in record time. Many employees probably want to know more about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety. Employers should direct employees to credible organizations for reliable facts:

Do the vaccines work?

Yes. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines proved 94 percent effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults and 64 percent effective among partially vaccinated adults 65 and older.

In the United States, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine showed 72 percent effectiveness generally and 86 percent effectiveness against severe disease.

These vaccines are the result of 30 years of medical progress in vaccine development and manufacturing. They are based on immune and genetic studies that helped scientists more quickly understand the virus, the disease, and how to attack it. COVID-19 mutation strain vaccines, if they become necessary, along with other disease vaccines, could be developed in a similar timeframe.  

What do parents need to know about vaccinating their children?

The Delta variant drove cases among children up by four times between July and August. Generally, kids experience milder symptoms than adults, but they can develop serious disease or even die, especially if they have any underlying medical conditions. COVID has claimed approximately 9,000 children’s lives worldwide so far. The U.S. had recorded 454 child fatalities as of late August 2021. Regardless of how sick children get, they can spread the disease.

Were the vaccines “fast tracked”?

No. COVID-19 vaccines were subject to the same regulations as other vaccines. It takes 10-to-15 years for the average vaccine to make into Americans’ arms, largely because of funding and manufacturing barriers. The federal government and nonprofits solved the funding issue by footing the bill for vaccine development. The government slashed manufacturing barriers by authorizing production during early clinical trials. Historically, late-stage clinical trial planning signals production kick-off.

How was the vaccines’ safety tested?

The FDA subjected COVID-19 vaccines to the same layers of review and testing as other vaccines.ModernaPfizer, and Johnson and Johnson tested their vaccines in multiple countries on more than 30,000, 43,000, and 44,000 people, respectively. Tests were done according to rigorous FDA standards

Safety-related decisions were transparent and made by objective medical specialists not employed by the FDA, the government, or vaccine manufacturers.  The trial data was strong, and in fact much better than vaccines approved to protect against other illnesses.

The FDA and CDC conduct ongoing safety monitoring to identify possible side effects not identified during clinical trials.

Since the FDA gave its emergency use authorization to administer vaccines in the U.S., there have been over 369 million doses given. These vaccines are very safe when compared to other current vaccines.

Are there potential side effects?

Yes. Common side effects include injection-site pain, redness, and swelling that disappears in one to three days. Other potential side effects include low-grade fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and headaches that usually disappear in a few days. Researchers continue to gather data on potential long-term side effects. Health officials advise, however, the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the potential long-term impact of COVID-19.

How common are allergic reactions?

A limited number of people experience allergic reactions to the vaccines. The CDC documented
10 cases among the first 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. Reactions to the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines were similarly rare.

Which vaccine should I get?

Experts recommend getting whichever vaccine you can access. Picking and choosing vaccines compromises mass vaccination goals.

Do people who had COVID-19 need to be vaccinated?

Yes. Medical experts recommend getting a vaccine even if you had COVID-19. Early evidence suggests people who had the virus are only temporarily protected from severe disease. If you had COVID-19, ask your physician when you should get vaccinated. Visit the Mayo Clinic website for the truth behind other common vaccine myths.

Should vaccinated employees and students still wear a mask?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order prohibits schools from requiring masks. Many districts are challenging the order, and the issue is playing out in courts. For guidance, read this TASB Legal Services memo and consult your local counsel.

The Delta variant is twice as transmissible as the original strain of COVID-19. With that in mind, the CDC updated its guidance. The agency now recommends that all students, teachers, and visitors wear masks in schools and follow long-standing mitigation measures. Officials also advise vaccinated people to mask up in indoor public spaces in “areas with substantial and high transmission.”

For more information, read about two new studies that project how masking and testing practices could impact the Delta variant’s spread in schools.

When will I be eligible for vaccination?

Everyone who is at least 12 years old is eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Staff and students who are 18 years and older are eligible for the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

Who is eligible for booster shots?

Organ transplant recipients and anyone else who has a compromised immune system and who got two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are eligible for boosters. Consult your physician to see if you qualify for a booster shot. Under a new federal government plan, all adults will be eligible for boosters eight months after they receive their second Pfizer or Moderna shot.

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Liability questions

This section addresses liability questions that school administrators should consider when making vaccine-related decisions. If you have additional questions, please contact Charli Searcy, TASB legal liability risk consultant.

Is there liability protection if a school nurse or other employee administers the vaccine to co-workers or the public and someone claims they were harmed?

Yes. The district would be protected from liability under the doctrine of sovereign immunity for any claims related to the administration of the vaccine.  The employee administering the vaccine would be protected under the Texas Education Code. If a claim is filed against the district or an employee, the Fund will respond.

The Fund’s School Liability Coverage Agreement defends the district and an employee acting in the course and scope of employment against claims seeking damages, subject to any applicable exclusions. While each claim is assessed based on the facts and allegations presented, there are no exclusions relative to activities related to the administering of a vaccine. If your Liability coverage is not with the Fund, please consult your provider.

Does the answer to the question above change if a healthcare provider administers the vaccine to district employees or students?

Generally, not. However, the district should diligently review contracts associated with that type of arrangement. Make sure they do not seek to have the district assume liability on behalf of the healthcare provider and/or seek to have the district defend and be responsible for claims made against the healthcare provider.

Are there laws a district needs to be aware of when considering whether to make it mandatory for employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Equal Employment Opportunity laws (Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act, Genetic Information Act, and Title VII, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act) do not interfere with or prevent employers from requiring employees to receive a vaccine, as long as the employer allows for exemptions for disability and religious belief.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently updated its guidance to include information on COVID-19 vaccinations. The updated guidance addresses how to handle prescreening questions to ensure compliance with the medical inquiries provision of the ADA and how to respond to an employee who indicates that he or she is unable to receive a required vaccination because of a disability. For more information, read the TASB HR Services blog, review the TEA K-12 COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ, or consult your local counsel.

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Other considerations for leadership

This section covers risks associated with handling, storing, and administering vaccines. If you have other questions, please contact your risk solutions consultant.

If an employee suffers and adverse reaction to the vaccine, would workers’ compensation cover the claim?

If the employer makes vaccination mandatory, the employee might be covered by workers’ compensation. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, if an employee has an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine that causes the employee to miss one or more days from work and their vaccination was related to their employment, the employer should file a workers’ compensation claim. For more information about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, see these common questions from Fund members.

Are there safety risks associated with vaccine cold storage?

Yes. Pfizer ships its vaccine in containers packed with dry ice to keep the temperature 70 degrees below zero. Dry ice carries potential risks such as frostbite and asphyxiation. Shipping containers should be unpacked according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The CDC offers more dry ice safety tips. Do not task employees with handling dry ice unless they have been trained and given proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

What are the safety risks for nurses or other employees who administer vaccine?

Employees could be exposed to COVID-19, needle sticks, and bloodborne pathogens. Refer to your policies, your bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan, and this Texas Department of Insurance resource (Spanish version) for guidance on safely administering vaccines and disposing of used needles. Anyone administering vaccines should wear required PPE and follow strict COVID-19 protocols.

How should we dispose of medical waste generated during vaccinations?

Schools are generally regulated like businesses when it comes to waste disposal. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality offers biohazardous waste disposal regulatory guidance. Before you start administering vaccines, contact your biohazardous waste vendor to ensure you have enough disposal containers and to check pricing. Needles, alcohol swabs, and PPE such as disposable gloves typically go in red bags or boxes clearly marked biohazardous waste. Depending on district policy and your vendor, you might be able to dispose of PPE in the general trash.

What if we do not have a biohazardous waste vendor?

Contact a district nurse; your environmental, health, and safety team; or your administration. You can also reach out to your city or local health department, neighboring districts or education service centers, and your TASB risk solutions consultant for guidance.

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Get more information

If you missed our COVID-19 vaccine webinar, watch it now or when your schedule allows. Fund members who have questions about the risks associated with COVID-19 vaccines should reach to your TASB risk solutions consultant. Anyone can learn more about controlling the virus by watching these short videos and reading our InsideRM COVID-19 articles.

About our subject matter experts

In-house subject matter experts compiled the guidance shared in this article. Contributors include TASB Medical Director Dr. Brian Buck; Workers’ Compensation Claims Administration Director Hiawatha Franks; Auto, Liability, Property Claims Director Troy Winslow; Risk Prevention Services Manager Joanie Arrott; Risk Solutions Consultant Nicole Callahan; and Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in February 2021. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Tagged: COVID-19, "disease prevention", Safety