The governor announced that the vaccine rollout to public employees would be through our unions and health groups, but also said that WE need to prioritize who receives the vaccine first (based upon risk factors/comorbidities) since the supply is limited (as the governor mentioned in Friday's press conference) --it will probably take a few months to vaccinate every staff member who wants one.
How can we organize our internal "prioritization?" Should we prioritize those with underlying health conditions, or use other criteria? What about HIPAA? I want to do this fairly, but I am also concerned about the ethics.
The member's caution shows how important it is to get this one right.
Before delving into it, I want to say: for public libraries with a union, this is one to confer with union leadership on.
For public libraries without a union, it will be good to think about not only your internal prioritization, but the messaging around it.
And for all libraries connecting their employees to vaccine, this is one to plan in careful coordination with a board committee, your lawyer, and your local health department.
With the right participants at the table and careful consideration of ethics and privacy, finding the right plan for you won't be easy, but you will get it right.
This question is about the "ethics and privacy" part of the process. For a public institution that will be part of this rollout, the State of New York's own ethical statement and guidelines for prioritization are a good place to start. Here they are:
New York State based its COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration process on ten guiding principles.
Informed by these guiding principles, each library can consider its unique policies, Safety Plan, and if relevant, collective bargaining agreement (union contract), and confirm its own internal method of prioritizing.
While these variables will make each library's position unique, the best way to confirm and follow the method of prioritization they decide on is to:
1) Adopt a written policy;
2) Document that it is being followed consistently;
3) Notify the employees and the public as to how the process will be implemented.
Here are an "example policy" and "example notice" drawn from the State's approach:
[**START EXAMPLE POLICY**]
[NAME] Library Vaccine Distribution Policy [Employees Only]
In step with the method of prioritization being applied by the State of New York, [NAME] Library's COVID-19 vaccine employee distribution plan will be based on "levels" that prioritize people at higher risk of exposure, illness and/or poor outcome.
Definitions and Levels
"Higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome" means that a medical condition makes it potentially more likely the employee could become ill, or, if they do become ill, are statistically more likely to experience a poor outcome; such need shall be considered "Level 1(d)."
"Higher risk of exposure" means those who, working within the parameters of the Library's current safety plan, PPE requirements, and operations:
Procedure for 1(d) requests
Any Level 1(d) requests for vaccination shall be confidential. When supplies are available to the Library, employees who self-identify as at "higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome" may request COVID vaccination through the same confidential process used to request and arrange disability accommodations, with the understanding that during this time of extra burden on medical providers, documentation of the condition creating the need may be supplied after vaccination (please supply a note from your physician when you are able).
A request for vaccination may be considered separately or together with accommodations based on disability.
Any employee may request vaccination.
When supply and demand require prioritization, the order of priority shall be:
Levels 1 (any type): highest priority
Level 2 and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome: second highest priority
Level 2: third highest priority
Level 3 and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome: fourth highest priority
Level 3: fifth highest priority
All others: lowest level of priority
If further prioritization is required to prioritize between Level 1 employees, the order of priority shall be:
Level 1 (a/b)
Level 1 (any type) and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome
If an employee is selected for vaccination through the library, the employee will be expected to follow all the rules and procedures for vaccination.
Employees not selected will be placed on a wait list in order of priority.
The Director, or their designee, shall be responsible for compliance with this policy.
[**END EXAMPLE POLICY**]
[**START EXAMPLE NOTICE**]
[NAME] Library Vaccine Opportunity Notice
The Library has been issued # doses of COVID-19 vaccine. We expect to be able to initiate vaccinations on DATE.
As determined by the attached policy, the Library will be offering vaccination through our allotment to as many employees as possible.
Vaccination is voluntary.
Please transmit your interest in being vaccinated and your assessment as to the level of priority you fall into (see the policy) to name@address by DATE.
For example: "I am voluntarily requesting vaccination through the library's allotted doses. I believe my priority level is "1."
Requests that include medical disclosures will be treated confidentially.
If the library is able to grant your request, we will send you information regarding next steps, and you will be expected to follow all the rules and procedures for vaccination. Employees not selected will be placed on a wait list in order of priority.
Supplies are limited. If you have the opportunity to be vaccinated through another supplier, we encourage you to do so. Employees may use up to a day of sick leave for each vaccination session. The library places the highest priority on the health of our employees.
[**END EXAMPLE NOTICE**]
Final notes from the lawyer:
These are early days for the vaccine and vaccination rollout. While being prepared with a policy is the right move, prior to announcing any prioritization, after adopting a policy, be ready to be flexible, since the situation is changing rapidly.
As with all major policies, this is one that ideally will be adopted via a vote by your board. Here is a sample resolution for you:
BE IT RESOLVED, that after due consideration of the "guiding principles" of the State of New York and the library's own code of ethics, that the Library adopt the attached "Library Vaccine Distribution Policy" and "Notice;" and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the [insert] committee shall work with the Director to monitor the need to revise this policy, based on any new guidance, knowledge, or operational needs.
I wish you good health, strength, and fortitude as we move into this next phase of overcoming the pandemic.
 This does not mean your library's (online) meetings about your rollout should have a cast of thousands—or even 5. A good approach is like a series of waves: a small core group of policy makers (director and one or two board members) reach out to the identified parties to alert them and get initial input, set a time to check in on a final draft, set a tight deadline for final input and final approval by the board. With the right planning, this can be done in 3-5 business days, and no one should be allowed to sandbag it.
 Care should be taken that any Level 1(d) designation is not set forth on a list that can be accessible per FOIL. Once created, a wait list should simply set forth the names or employee ID numbers in order of priority.
 Drafting note: for libraries that must follow the new sick leave law (Labor Law Section 196-b, effective in September 2020), time off for vaccination does qualify as sick leave. Libraries that regard themselves as being exempt government agencies, and thus not subject to 196-b, should check with their municipal attorney or HR professional to confirm if this meets the requirements for sick leave under municipal policies.
 While it is critical that a library board of trustees entrust the day-to-day management of the library to the director, policies are always ideally adopted at the level of highest accountability. This will also position a board to have a director's back if there is a legal or operational challenge to the vaccine distribution policy.
Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Health Management, Public Health, Public Libraries, COVID-19 Vaccine, HIPAA, PTO, Vacation, and Leave