Feds get more guidance on COVID vaccination, testing

The Biden administration is eyeing booster shots for some Americans, but for its vaccination and testing program for federal employees, those who are two weeks out from a completed vaccination are considered covered without a booster shot, for now.

 Doctor giving patient vaccine. Shutterstock ID 1498605842 by Arturs Budkevics

The Biden administration's Safer Federal Workforce released new guidelines on Sept. 3 clarifying how agencies should implement vaccination and testing requirements for feds.

For now, the government is operating under the assumption that all three COVID-19 vaccines confer lasting immunity, although plans are in the works to authorize boosters for Americans who received the Pfizer jab. According to the latest guidance, an individual is considered vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the one Johnson & Johnson dose. That guidance also applies to vaccines that have been given the nod by the World Health Organization, such as the AstraZeneca product.

The administration is also facing pressure from associations of federal managers and supervisors, who say that it isn't clear how exactly agencies will have funding to cover the cost of testing unvaccinated federal employees and the ability of managers to lay out policies on the ground.

As previous guidance has stated, agencies should ask all employees, even those worked remotely, about their vaccination status, but only those coming into the office in any given week need to be tested.

The latest guidance also clarifies leave policies: feds should get four hours of administrative leave per dose. It offers an example of up to 12 hours total for three doses.

Feds and contractors visiting federal buildings will also be asked to fill out a disclosure form. Agencies can also contracting firms to certify that their employees contractors entering federal buildings are vaccinated. Visitors seeking a public service or benefit don't have to fill out forms, but will be asked to comply with masking and distancing requirements if they attest to being unvaccinated.

As far as exactly who will know about the vaccination status of each federal employee, the newest guidance directs that "agencies should only disseminate information to the appropriate agency officials who have a need to know to ensure effective implementation of the safety protocols, which, in many cases, will include the supervisor level."

Generally, an employee's vaccination status shouldn't be kept in their official personnel folder, the location of a fed's HR documents and records, according to the guidance. The guidance states that agencies should give out the form and "designate the appropriate agency official to whom the completed form should be submitted."

Feds can face discipline for lying about their vaccination status, but agencies shouldn't look to verify that status unless they've received a good faith allegation that an employee lied on a certification form.