With two COVID-19 vaccine candidates about to seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many people have asked NFDA questions about whether funeral directors will have priority access to it.
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.
Prioritizing deathcare workers for pandemic-related vaccines is not without precedent. In 2008, when facing the H1N1 pandemic, the CDC elevated “Mortuary Service Providers” to the Tier II level for vaccine prioritization. There were six tiers to the system, with the most critical workers and personnel in Tiers I, II, and III.
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.
Here is what we know about where things stand with the COVID-19 vaccine.
In the spring, 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.
This designation underscored the vital role funeral directors and others who work in deathcare play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This designation was critical because federal guidelines on how the COVID-19 vaccine should be prioritized have relied on CISA’s critical infrastructure worker guidance.
In October, 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 the decisions by federal and state health authorities, including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the CDC, 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 uses the CISA designation of healthcare/public health workers (which includes funeral professionals) as critical infrastructure workers. NFDA actively petitioned NASEM to prioritize funeral professionals.
ACIP is a standing committee within the CDC. Last week, it 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, as well as the CISA designation of healthcare/public health workers (which includes funeral professionals) as critical infrastructure workers.
There are two vaccine candidates – Pfizer and Moderna – that will seek emergency use authorization from the FDA in the next two weeks.
A thumbs-up from the FDA will kickstart the distribution of 6.4 million vaccine doses among 64 states, territories and major cities, based on population. The Trump administration pledges to start shipping COVID-19 vaccines within 24 hours of a green light from the FDA.
After emergency use authorization is granted, ACIP and the CDC will finalize a federal policy outlining who should have priority access to the vaccine.
While all this work has been going on at the federal level, states have been working on distribution plans for their allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Each of the 64 states, territories and major cities will be allocated a certain amount of the COVID-19 vaccine by the federal government, which will be managed by the jurisdiction’s immunization program. The allotted amount will change over time based on availability and population priority. You can see whether your state has a plan here.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he doubted ACIP's final recommendations would significantly change state plans on where to send the vaccine. “The final say will be up to our governors,” Azar said.
Friday, December 4: Today is the deadline for the 64 states, territories and major cities to tell the CDC/Operation Warp Speed where they want their first allocations of vaccine to be delivered.
Thursday, December 10: The FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Board meets to review the clinical trial data on Pfizer’s vaccine and make a recommendation on whether to grant emergency use authorization.
Friday, December 11: Deadline for the 64 states, territories and major cities to tell CDC/Operation Warp Speed where they want their second allocations of vaccine to be delivered.
Thursday, December 17: The FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Board meets to review the clinical trial data on Moderna’s vaccine and make a recommendation on whether to grant emergency use authorization.
NFDA’s goal in 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 and 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.
We’ve Got Your Back
Mass-fatality planning and response is just one of the four key issues for NFDA’s Advocacy division – the others being veterans, small business, and environment/safety. NFDA is the only national funeral service association with a year-round presence in Washington, D.C., which enables us to take a boots-on-the-ground approach to our advocacy work.
We have spent decades developing close relationships with legislators and staff at regulatory agencies and are trusted experts on all matters related to funeral service at the highest levels of the federal government. This ground work is like training for a marathon. It is what makes NFDA so effective during emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can always trust NFDA to have your back. It’s our promise to you.