As frontline healthcare workers around the country receive the first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, mental health providers worry they may not be included, even though they are often working in hospitals and clinics and may be exposed to Covid-19. The crux of the matter rests with how individual states end up interpreting broad federal guidelines for vaccine distribution. These states will be the ultimate arbiters of who are “essential workers” that qualifies for early inoculations. A CDC committee approved guidance to states in early December that vaccines should go to health care workers “who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials” and to “residents of long-term care facilities.”
Mental health groups worry that wording leaves too much room for interpretation. Without more specific directions, “we would be at the mercy of each state to recognize the importance of mental health and substance use providers,” Reyna Taylor, the head of policy at the National Council for Behavioral Health, said in an email.
A COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and German company BioNTech was approved by the FDA for use last week, and has been shipped and administered throughout the country. A vaccine developed by Moderna is expected to be approved this week.
Mental health providers should be part of the first group of recipients of these vaccines because they face unique risks treating patients in person, Taylor said. Many take walk-in appointments and provide primary care. In mental health emergencies, she said, providers may have to treat someone before they can learn whether the person has Covid-19 or not. “When you’re providing services to someone who’s in a mental health or substance use crisis, you’re not thinking about Covid-19, you’re thinking about saving someone’s life from that crisis,” she said. Even if they aren’t in crisis, “the nature of serious mental illness and substance use disorder [means] there is at times a lack of awareness of their symptoms, including the symptoms of COVID-19,” she added in an email, and as a result providers “have to treat everyone who walks in as if they are COVID-19 positive.”
The National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents more than 3,300 providers of community mental health and substance use disorder treatment, cowrote a letter following the CDC committee’s decision urging them to specifically include mental health providers in the first group of people getting vaccinated. “They must be treated as the frontline providers they are,” the letter said. They have not received a response yet, said Taylor.
Psychiatrist Herbert Cruz said he routinely faces risk of exposure…
Read More: Mental Health Providers Worry They’ll Be Left Out Of First Vaccine Allocations