Essential Principles for a COVID-19 Vaccine
WHEREAS, vaccines are proven to be the most effective strategy to reduce and eliminate the spread of infectious diseases and are an important and necessary tool for eradicating disease. We sometimes forget how the landscape looks in an unvaccinated population; and
WHEREAS, we have entered into a dangerous time in our nation’s politics where even fundamental and scientifically noncontroversial public health responses have been deeply politicized and ignored by many; and
WHEREAS, there is nothing political about securing the resources and funding to protect our kids, our communities and our health, yet the Trump administration’s chaotic and overtly politicized response to the COVID-19 pandemic has needlessly risked the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans; and
WHEREAS, in order to ensure the safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine and the public’s trust in it, it is essential that any possible vaccine successfully complete all of the steps of the Food and Drug Administration’s normal rigorous testing and review process, even if on an accelerated timeline. Fundamentally, the medical community must be allowed to do its work, and we must trust science, even if it means the vaccine isn’t available as quickly as we would hope; and
WHEREAS, once an effective, safe COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the FDA, the United States must create a fair, equitable and efficient distribution system at scale, which only the federal government can ensure. A well-developed and resourced public health infrastructure is critical to ensuring vaccine distribution and administration meets people where they are, whether at work or in the community; and
WHEREAS, we cannot rely on our profit-driven healthcare system as a model for vaccination, as it will leave vulnerable communities with vaccine deserts, just as it has for access to necessary healthcare; and
WHEREAS, many of the steps our nation has taken to safeguard our communities against COVID-19 have been conditioned upon the development and ultimate availability of a vaccine; and
WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers understands that initial vaccine production will not be sufficient for all people to be vaccinated at the outset. A well-managed national priority distribution plan must give priority to the most highly vulnerable in the community, including essential workers; and
WHEREAS, high influenza vaccination rates will help limit the impact on hospitals treating COVID-19, and once one has taken the flu vaccination, the flu can usually be ruled out as a cause of symptoms for those taking a COVID-19 test, making COVID-19 testing more efficient; and
WHEREAS, workers in a wide variety of settings—healthcare, education, public employment, meat packing and agriculture, among others—are at increased risk of work-related exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These workers are entitled to all evidence-based, employer-provided protections from exposure at work, including access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; and
WHEREAS, given the nature of congregation and potential for community spread in schools, the AFT recently implored the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to move teachers and school staff up to the first tier of priority when a vaccine is ready for distribution because of their level of exposure; and
WHEREAS, the AFT knows that many people are skeptical about the vaccine, and the World Health Organization cites vaccine hesitancy as one of the 10 biggest threats to global health; and
WHEREAS, communities of color, such as Black communities, have a well-warranted distrust in new vaccines, stemming from centuries of medical experimentation and long-standing discrimination and difficulty with access in our healthcare system. With only 28 percent of Black people planning to get the first-generation COVID-19 vaccine, it is essential that those participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials represent the full racial diversity of the population that will be vaccinated. Additionally, it is critical that those developing the vaccines share information about how they are conducting their late-stage trials, including demographic information on trial subjects, trial methodology and protocols, safety precautions that are being taken, etc.; and
WHEREAS, vaccination, even if the most effective tool to prevent infection, must only be part of a comprehensive strategy. Vaccines are never 100 percent effective, and other protective strategies must stay in place in the community and the workplace. A good workplace model for this approach is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s bloodborne pathogen standard, which requires employers to assess potential exposures throughout a facility and then develop a plan to address those exposures. This standard mandates that the employer offer the hepatitis B vaccine free of charge to at-risk workers, along with education on the benefits of the vaccine. And to strengthen vaccine acceptance and uptake, the standard also requires rigorous annual education and training on the benefits of vaccination as well as comprehensive measures that address exposure-control methods in the facility:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers supports robust and rigorous vaccination programs for both influenza and COVID-19; and
RESOLVED; that, in order to protect hospital capacity in the event of increased COVID-19 infections, it is more important than ever for all AFT members to take the flu vaccine; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT will not endorse a COVID-19 vaccine until it has been proven to be both safe and effective by science; and
RESOLVED, that the federal government should roll out a coordinated vaccination plan with the goal of everyone having a COVID-19 vaccine. The program must have an effective communication and education strategy, as recommended by the Center for Health Security COVID-19 Working Group, so that the nation achieves 70 percent of the population being vaccinated in the coming year, the medically and ethically appropriate way to achieve immunity within our society. The weight of responsibility can not solely rest with the states; the federal government must maintain active oversight of the program. Distribution planning should be based on principles of equity, safety and priority, and the plan should include robust efforts to address a high degree of skepticism about its safety; and
RESOLVED, that once a COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective through the normal, rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration process, the AFT will urge all members to take COVID-19 vaccines; and
RESOLVED, that once proven to be safe and effective, the COVID vaccine must be free to all who receive it; the AFT opposes any policy that makes health insurance or financial resources a prerequisite for accessing the vaccine; and
RESOLVED, that employers in schools, healthcare and other settings should be mandated to provide:
- All employees with access to the vaccine at no cost to the employees as it becomes available; and
- Vaccination during work hours at the work site for employees working in person, as well as an option to receive the vaccine at no cost with a healthcare provider; and
- Employee education that includes the risks and benefits of the vaccination, as well as the known efficacy rates of the vaccine; and
- An informed declination for those who opt out after receiving education as described above; and
RESOLVED, that employers must bargain in good faith with their employees over their specific vaccine distribution plans so that vaccination is convenient and readily available for employees to access; and
RESOLVED, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must accelerate the promulgation of an infectious disease standard to address this pandemic and to be prepared for future outbreaks, including enforcement of exposure guidelines and specific requirements for personal protective equipment for individuals who decline the vaccine.
 World Health Organization, “Ten Threats to Global Health in 2019,” www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019.
 Bryan Walsh, “Axios-Ipsos Poll: The Racial Gap on Coronavirus Vaccine,” Axios, Aug. 26, 2020.
 M. Schoch-Spana, E. Brunson, R. Long, S. Ravi, A. Ruth and M. Trotochaud on behalf of the Working Group on Readying Populations for COVID-19 Vaccine, The Public’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccination: Planning Recommendations Informed by Design Thinking and the Social, Behavioral, and Communication Sciences (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, 2020).