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Veterinarians helping with the COVID vaccination effort

covid Virus Outbreak Vaccine Race
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

As rollout continues, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is deploying veterinarians to help with the vaccination effort, and some states are considering allowing private practitioners help vaccinate people as well.

Most of APHIS’ deployed employees will help vaccinate people in Nevada and Oklahoma. The agency sent eight employees to Texas to help manage resources for a vaccination site. The agency also virtually deployed six employees to assist Washington state in planning vaccination efforts, four employees to assist Oregon, and nine employees to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The American Veterinary Medical Association AVMA was aware that at least four states—Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, and Ohio—had begun to include veterinary personnel in their vaccination delivery plans. The role of veterinarians in these plans varies.

“Interest on the part of some veterinarians is understandable, because the profession often responds to disasters and we naturally want to help,” according to the AVMA’s FAQ on COVID-19 vaccination. “However, veterinarians should not expect their veterinary malpractice insurance to cover them for human injury arising out of the administration of vaccines to people.”

Veterinarians are not explicitly addressed in the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act or the current declarations under it that provide limited immunity from liability arising out of, relating to, or resulting from administration or use of countermeasures, such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

There may be state-specific laws that provide immunity. They may need to be predicated by some emergency finding or declaration, and there may be specific requirements for veterinarians to be covered.

On Feb. 17, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the agency had deployed 119 employees, including veterinary medical officers and animal health technicians, to assist with the COVID-19 vaccination effort in several states. As of now, it appears that Florida is not one of them.

And while private practitioners might want to help vaccinate people, the AVMA advises considering the possibility of legal risk in a litigious society before agreeing to do so.