Updated: February 1, 2021
With two versions of the COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) now being administered throughout the country, many of you have been asking when funeral directors will be able to be vaccinated.
The short answer is that it depends on the vaccine distribution plan that has been developed by your state public health officials.
The road to vaccines actually being administered has been a long one and we hope the following explanation of how we got to where we are and where you can learn more about you might be able to receive the COVID vaccine.
Note: NFDA is not suggesting that vaccines be mandatory. We simply want those funeral directors who want the vaccine to have access to it as soon as possible.
For more than a decade, NFDA has been working at the federal level on mass-fatality planning and response, helping the federal government understand the critical role of funeral service during these incidents. This groundwork enabled your national association to leap into action very early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.
NFDA has been working on your behalf since the very beginning of the pandemic to ensure that funeral directors have priority access to a COVID-19 vaccine. Thanks to relationships NFDA has built over the years with the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and others, we have had a seat at the table as Operation Warp Speed has worked to develop a vaccine. We are your voice and your advocate.
A Big Victory: Three Critical Guidance Documents
Much has been written about federal guidance on vaccine prioritization. That federal guidance is critical; however, the federal government doesn’t have the authority to determine how a state will distribute its allotment of vaccine doses.
Each state is responsible for developing a plan for distributing its allotment of COVID vaccines. As Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “The final say will be up to our governors.”
During the second half of 2020, states began working on distribution plans for their allocation of the vaccine. To guide states’ development of a vaccine distribution plan, there are three critical pieces of federal guidance on which they can rely.
The first federal guidance was released in the spring of 2020: at the urging of NFDA, guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) named mortuary workers as “critical infrastructure workers.” Mortuary workers were included in the “Healthcare/Public Health” category along with doctors, nurses, people performing testing, and researchers.
Critical infrastructure workers are those individuals whose occupations are critical to keeping our country running. Getting funeral directors and others who work in deathcare designated as critical infrastructure workers underscores the vital role they play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The critical infrastructure worker designation was important because other guidance on how the COVID-19 vaccine should be prioritized relied on CISA’s document. In the December 16, 2020, updates to this guidance document, CISA noted that as this country entered a new phase of pandemic response, when vaccines would be available but in short supply, the critical infrastructure worker guidance “remains an important tool for COVID-19 planning.”
The second key piece of federal guidance came in October 2020: the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released the “Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine,” which included funeral directors in the highest priority phase for vaccine allocation. The framework was designed to inform decisions by federal and state health authorities, including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), as they create and implement guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine allocation.
The NASEM framework puts funeral directors in “Phase 1a” for vaccine allocation, which is the phase for high-risk healthcare/public health workers. The NASEM framework used CISA’s critical infrastructure worker guidance to determine who was included in the healthcare/public health worker group.
The third piece of guidance was released in late-November 2020: ACIP, a standing committee in the CDC, released its proposed groups for prioritized access to the COVID-19 vaccine. ACIP also put healthcare/public health workers in “Phase 1a,” along with residents of long-term care facilities. ACIP also used the NASEM framework and CISA’s critical infrastructure worker guidance to determine who was included in the healthcare/public health worker group.
What’s Happening Now?
There are two vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – that received emergency use authorization from the FDA in mid- to late-December. More vaccine candidates will seek similar authorization in the weeks and months to come.
After emergency use authorization was granted, ACIP and the CDC finalized a federal policy outlining who should have priority access to the vaccine.
The thumbs-up from the FDA also kickstarted the distribution of millions of vaccine doses among 64 states, territories and major cities. Again, each state is responsible for developing a plan and managing distribution of its allotment of COVID vaccines.
You can find your state’s plan here. Your state association can also provide information about the status of funeral professionals in your state’s plan.
The CDC has a helpful data tracker, which, among other things, keeps tabs on the number of vaccine doses distributed to a state and the number of people who have received their first vaccination. You can view the tracker here.
NFDA’s goal throughout this pandemic remains helping you stay safe as you continue to care for the dead and those who mourn.
NFDA has been working on vaccine prioritization from the federal level since the very beginning of the pandemic. We advocated for you to be included in the CISA critical infrastructure worker guidance and we lobbied NASEM and ACIP for funeral professionals to be included in Phase 1a for the vaccine. We continue to be actively engaged in discussions with key federal agencies on your behalf.
Just as the success of a national vaccination program relies on cooperation between federal and state governments, NFDA and the state funeral directors associations continue to work together to advocate on behalf of the profession on vaccine prioritization.
As NFDA has new information on the COVID-19 vaccine, we will share it with you. And, we know your state associations will keep you apprised of local plans to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, just as they have kept you informed of important developments in your state related to the pandemic.