The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out its initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations. While the guidelines are good news for most health care workers, it’s unclear what they mean for behavioral health care providers.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted on Tuesday to make the recommendations, which will guide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines once they gain federal approval. While vaccine administration will ultimately be left up to state governors, most are expected to heed the CDC panel’s advice.
The committee is proposing to give residents and staff of nursing homes and similar facilities the chance to get the vaccine first, as well as health care workers at high risk of virus exposure.
However, the CDC recommendations don’t explicitly include behavioral health workers in its Phase 1 vaccination category. As such, behavioral health providers are unsure where they stand in line for the vaccine.
Industry stakeholders — such as the National Council for Behavioral Health, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) and the Mental Health Corporations of America (MHCA) — are trying to change that.
After the recommendations came out, they wrote a letter to leaders at the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), urging them to include behavioral health workers as essential frontline providers who should be among the first in line for the coronavirus vaccine.
For one, the behavioral health of the nation has worsened amid COVID-19, heightening the demand for these services. Plus, much of the care behavioral health providers offer is delivered in-person, National Council President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia stressed in the letter.
“If we are to continue successfully providing vital and life-saving access to mental health and addiction treatment, behavioral health providers and organizations – especially residential treatment facilities – we must have uninhibited access to testing support, the funding necessary to meet increased demand and Phase 1 vaccine distribution,” Ingoglia said. “Behavioral health care workers are on the front lines. So we can’t be forced to stand at the back of the line while other essential workers receive vaccines.”
The panel’s recent recommendation is the first of many expected to be released in the weeks to come, as vaccines continue to make their way through the federal approval process. States are expected to start administering vaccines as early as this month.