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COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ

Issued: February 18, 2021

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is working closely with other commonwealth agencies to assist in the distribution of vaccines to the populations we serve and providers to those populations. Vaccination is a critical part in our fight against COVID-19 and overcoming this pandemic, and we want all Pennsylvanians to feel safe, informed, and prepared to participate in this process when the opportunity comes.

You can find guidance on COVID-19, vaccination considerations, phase of distribution and more on the Department of Health's website.  Department of Health (DOH) also has a broader FAQ on the COVID-19 Vaccine which can be found here.

You can find guidance on health care coverage for the vaccine on the Department of Insurance's website.

Will DHS require providers, vendors, or contractors to be vaccinated?

No, there are no plans to make a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, but we hope that those who are able will help us keep our communities safe by choosing to get a vaccine. 

Can a provider require staff to receive the vaccine?

Providers must comply with all employment laws.  DHS recommends that providers consult with legal professionals regarding this issue.

Can a provider refuse to provide services to an individual who has not been vaccinated for COVID-19 or require that an individual receive a vaccination for COVID-19?

Providers cannot refuse to provide services to individuals who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19. This may constitute discrimination under either of the following:

        • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
        • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

To comply with 55 Pa. Code § 6100.182, individuals may not be discriminated against because of race, color, creed, disability, religious affiliation, ancestry, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin or age.  Further, individuals have the right to make choices and accept risks. 

When individuals choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, providers must make reasonable accommodations to render services in a manner that protects the health and wellness of the individual and other individuals receiving services.

Regardless of whether individuals have been vaccinated for COVID-19, providers must continue to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies. 

How will consent be ascertained when the individual is unable to provide it and there is no present guardian?

If a person has been determined unable to give consent to vaccination, and there is no guardian, then it is necessary to determine if the individual has been appointed a decision-maker under a valid and durable  Health Care Power of Attorney. 20 Pa. C.S. §§ 5441 – 5460.  If there is neither a valid and durable Health Care Power of Attorney nor a guardian, then a Health Care Representative may make a health care decision for an individual whose attending physician has determined that the individual is incompetent under very specific circumstances and limitations. 20 Pa. C.S. § 5461.  Whether the Health Care Power of Attorney is valid, durable and applicable and whether the Health Care Representative can act under the circumstances are fact-driven questions and subject to case-by-case legal analysis, and providers should consult with their own legal counsel and advisors before proceeding in that manner.  A final option to ascertain consent is to simply obtain a court-appointed guardian.

How can facilities that are not a part of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership (FPP) Program gain access to the vaccine for their residents?

Pennsylvania is participating in the FPP in order to coordinate vaccination for skilled nursing facilities, which are licensed by DOH, as well as personal care homes, assisted living facilities, and intermediate care facilities for people with disabilities licensed by DHS. Facilities enrolled in this program are receiving vaccinations from CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens. You can see the progress of vaccinations through the FPP on the DHS website.

For staff and residents of long-term care facilities and congregate care settings licensed by DHS that are not part of the FPP, the DHS and DOH have formed a partnership with Rite Aid to administer COVID-19 vaccinations in these settings.

Due to the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate settings, long-term and congregate care settings are included in Phase 1A of Pennsylvania's Interim Vaccination Plan, including group homes for people with disabilities; residential treatment facilities and long-term structured residences for adults with behavioral health needs; and private psychiatric hospitals. These settings serve people who have co-occurring medical needs that put them at risk of more severe cases if they contract the COVID-19 virus. Personal care homes and assisted living facilities that were not enrolled in the FPP will also be served by the partnership with Rite Aid. An estimated 6,000 facilities will be covered through this effort, and it will be a multi-week initiative to coordinate vaccination of all facilities based off vaccine supply available to Pennsylvania. 

Clinics are also being established where residents and staff of these DHS-licensed facilities may go to obtain vaccine doses at a scheduled time. Vaccinations will take place on-site at facilities where individuals served are not able to travel to an off-campus clinic site. This effort is separate from the Retail Pharmacy Partnership program stated above.

Facilities are being contacted by their DHS licensing office with details to help them prepare for vaccinations and vaccination clinic schedules for their area. Facilities should not contact Rite Aid directly.

How will home and community based (HCBS) providers access the vaccine?

For guidance regarding vaccine access for HCBS providers, please refer to previously issued guidance found here.

How will healthcare providers prove that they meet the criteria for their applicable phase of the Interim Vaccination Plan?

Healthcare personnel not affiliated with a hospital or health system must provide proof of occupation to receive a vaccine. This could include a state license or certification, letter from the employer on organization letterhead, facility identification/security badge, group listing on employer letterhead, or other proof of occupation.

Providers in the person-directed model may download a letter conveying proof of employment available on the PPL website for the Office of Long Term Living waiver programs and on the PALCO website for the Office of Developmental Program waiver programs.

How will unpaid caregivers prove that they are unpaid caregivers and therefore are eligible in phase 1A as defined in the Interim Vaccination Plan?

A: Unpaid caregivers are in phase 1A. They have been granted a letter from the Secretary of the Department of Human Services indicating their status as a caregiver. The letter can be accessed through the DHS website.

How can individuals without internet access receive vaccine information?

If an individual does not have a Direct Support Professional or Direct Care Worker who can provide them with the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine and healthcare provider information, the individual may call the PA Health Hotline 
at 1-877-724-3258.

When arranging for an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing to receive information via telephone, PA Relay Services are available by dialing 711.