How Safe Is it to Return to Work Once You Are Vaccinated?

There are a lot of things we don’t know yet.

With vaccines rolling out among select populations, can employers start to bring back vaccinated employees into the office? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

As long as employers are complying with state and local law, they can bring employees back whenever they think is prudent. Certainly with more and more people getting vaccinated, the overall risk in the workplace will go down. However, there are a lot of things we don’t know yet (more on that below), so while employers may want to start planning for employees’ return, they should do so realizing that things may not go as expected, and may want to avoid large investments in the process, at least until they are sure if and when employees will return.

Current unknowns include how quickly the vaccines will be distributed and whether they will be effective against the new mutations. Distribution varies by state plan as does the availability of doses, space to administer them, healthcare providers, and even refrigeration. Future plans for distribution will likely depend on whether current vaccines stand up to the mutations - we know that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, currently being distributed in the US, are less effective against the new mutations, and the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective against the South African variation at all. Although scientists believe that the vaccines can be adjusted to better fight new variants, that process can take six weeks or more, not including additional testing that may be required. There’s also the fact that many people will choose to forgo vaccination, whether for health, religious, or ideological reasons. All that to say that the “all clear” we are hoping for may be further away than we imagine.

Employers are smart to start thinking about what roles or individuals they’d like to bring back to the workplace first and what they can do to make that return as safe as possible. How can they create and ensure social distance? Do they need to be thinking about mitigating mold and Legionella if the workplace has been closed for weeks or months, or even a year? Will employees be interacting with customers whose vaccination status is unknown, and if so, can that be done safely? OSHA has recently released new guidance that employers should read and follow when bringing employees back (“Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace”), but they should also have contingency plans, just in case vaccination rollout runs into delays.

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