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Why everyone should get paid time off for COVID-19 vaccine

Last Wednesday morning, Kate, a Michigan-based financial technology engineer, used her last four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kate, who asked that her full name not be used because she fears retaliation at work, said her vaccination experience took more than two hours: an hour of driving, an hour of waiting and 15 minutes mandatory observation thereafter. “I was in a hurry to get out of there,” she says, because her job requires her to point.

Kate said her employer gives her 14 days of paid leave a year, including sick days, and has rejected requests that she and her co-workers be given two extra days of leave specifically to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “They said, ‘We’re already so generous with our PTO,” Kate said. “Obviously, if we ask for time, then we don’t have it.

The day after her shot, Kate experienced side effects. “I was so out of it. I was in pain all over, I was exhausted. I could barely work, ”she says. “It’s like, ‘Why am I here? I’m not even helping. Because Kate received the Pfizer vaccine, she still needs a second dose and isn’t sure how she will plan it for her workday. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Guess I’m taking an unpaid vacation day for this? ”

Kate wants her employer to be open to designating a specific PTO for coronavirus-related appointments so she doesn’t have to use her limited time to take COVID-19 tests and the vaccine. “It doesn’t make sense not to give that away,” she said. “People are so exhausted. We have been working for a year in a pandemic. ”

His experience highlights the fact that while the COVID-19 vaccine itself is currently free in the United States, there are other financial, psychological and emotional costs to getting the vaccine that some employers are making worse.

The paid time off for your vaccine appointment depends on where you live and who you work for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employers give employees paid sick leave for COVID-19 vaccine recovery, but this is not required by federal law. The American Rescue Plan Act, the stimulus bill signed on March 11, does not require paid time off for vaccinations, but does give a tax credit to some employers who offer it. As a result, paid time off for COVID-19 vaccination is left to the discretion of states, cities and individual employers.

“If the paid leave was based on the recovery time needed for those who have participated in clinical trials with COVID-19 vaccines, it should be 48 hours for most people.”

In New York State, for example, workers are entitled to at least four hours of paid leave per move. In California, full-time employees can get up to 80 hours of paid time off for vaccine-related personal care, including recovery from side effects. McDonald’s has mandated four hours of paid immunization time off, while Starbucks is offering two hours of paid time off per dose and Walmart says associates can get up to three days of PTO if they have unwanted side effects. At Amazon, workers who experience the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine can take time off, but will not be paid for it.

If the paid leave was based on the recovery time needed for those who have participated in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, it should be 48 hours for most people, according to Deborah Fuller, a microbiologist at the medical school from the University of Washington, which works on coronavirus vaccines.

“These are the 48 hours when the peak of reactogenicity [happens]. And by that I mean fever, shit feeling, pain, even chills, ”Fuller said. “At 72 hours, you can see in the data that everything is disappearing.”

Compared to the productivity that employers would lose if their employees contracted COVID-19, allowing at least two days off for vaccine retrieval is “a drop in the bucket,” Fuller said.

Getting the vaccine shouldn’t affect sick time or vacation time, as it did for Kate. “Most of the sick leave that we have in the United States is not very high initially,” said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, professor of law at the University of California at Hastings College of the Law. Therefore, when employers ask employees to use paid time off to get vaccinated, she said, “You are asking them to actually sacrifice something that makes sense.”

Kate said she understands employers may be anxious about staff using the PTO vaccine to evade work, but points out that this is an easy date to confirm: “There are ways to verify this, no? As your boss confirms with a photo of your vaccination record. “

Determining what constitutes a fair vaccine PTO would mean listening to employees on what they think is right, said Faith E. Fletcher, assistant professor in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.

Using the PTO to get vaccinated may have a different impact on hourly workers than those on wages and benefits, she said.

“This is the part that is of great concern. People who face multiple barriers in obtaining vaccines or accessing broader health care are also those who could potentially be more disadvantaged by policies by not having flexibility, by not having additional power take-off. or sick leave, ”Fletcher said. “Health equity does not implement a one-size-fits-all approach. Equality is not the same as fairness. “

“Everyone I know is in desperate need of the vaccine, but also desperate to keep their jobs. It is a difficult choice.

PTO is ideal, but it’s not the only way to make vaccination accessible and fair.

Paid time off for immunization not only helps employees, but also their families. For Magdalena, a San Francisco-based professional who quit her job to become a full-time parent during the pandemic, it was their partner’s paid time off that helped them get the vaccine.

“There’s no way we could have done it without the PTO. Our son has just started crawling and climbing all over the place and needs to be watched, ”Magdalena said. When the couple found out they were eligible for a vaccine, Magdalena’s partner took time to care for their son while Magdalena took care of the logistics. “It took three hours,” Magdalena said. “One of those hours was that I was waiting to get an appointment. The rest, research.

However, paid leave is in reality only a starting point to make access to vaccines more equitable. It requires looking beyond the power take-off and addressing long-standing inequalities that prevent people from obtaining and accessing health care in general, such as the lack of child care services. , transport and interpretation.

For COVID-19 vaccination in particular, informed decision-making is essential to achieve fairness. Employers should not promote the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine over the other two vaccines in order to reduce time out of the office, Fletcher said. Instead, companies should provide a wide range of information on how to get vaccinated, including identifying sites with amenities such as language interpreters or handrails and ramps. And the compensation shouldn’t be limited to free time: Since many people may lack adequate transportation, Target is giving all American workers up to $ 15 for Lyft trips to and from appointments.

Such barriers are an issue of equity, Fletcher said, but “vaccine equity also seeks to ensure that new inequalities are not created and enforced through policy and practice.” Denying workers paid time off to get vaccinated, for example, creates another kind of inequity that people face during a pandemic.

“Everyone I know is in desperate need of the vaccine, but also desperate to keep their jobs,” Magdalena said. “It’s a tough choice up there with me quitting my job to take care of our baby. … This is not a hesitation, it is a question of fairness. “

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