Jonathan Spalter

Critical Infrastructure Workers and the Vaccine: What’s Next?

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was clear America’s broadband and communications networks would play an outsized role in our national response. Nine months into this crisis, it is worth remembering that for many the ‘go home’ order came on a Friday in mid-March, and by Monday morning millions of businesses, schools and government employees were working, learning and operating from home.

Speculation that networks would buckle under the strain of the increased online activity proved unfounded. To the contrary, networks performed (and continue to perform) extremely well, with lots of extra capacity.

Yes, this is how the networks were designed, but the resiliency and preparedness of the networks is also due in no small measure to the frontline employees who worked around the clock to maintain the health and security of our shared and indispensable communications networks.

Back in March, USTelecom engaged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as it was developing a list of essential critical infrastructure workers. This designation of workers was to help state and local officials protect their communities while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and economic and national security.

DHS included frontline broadband workers on this list of critical workers to ensure freedom of movement and to distribute and expedite priority personal protective equipment (PPE) across the country. That proved a smart decision as the increased demand on networks stretched through 2020.

Now that a COVID vaccine is approved and ready for distribution, officials are faced with similar supply chain, logistics and operational questions that accompany what could be the largest mass vaccination in human history. And, if PPE was complicated, the COVID vaccine (two shots, subzero storage requirements and medical personnel to administer the treatment) will prove doubly or triply so.

Understanding the role broadband networks and critical infrastructure workers will play in our economic and social recovery – and to avoid a chaotic process (or worse an inequitable distribution among any person seeking a vaccine) – we’re urging state authorities to consider the following questions in their vaccine planning process:

  • Should companies be making plans to administer the vaccine?
  • Will the federal government collect and share state plans to facilitate private sector vaccine planning?
  • What distribution models for the vaccine are under consideration? (For example, a local ‘shot clinic’ open to the public or distribution via healthcare facilities).
  • Similarly, will companies be able to host vaccination clinics onsite?
  • Assuming priority is given to certain critical infrastructure workers, how should they demonstrate their eligibility at the point of vaccination? What evidence (shot record, certificate, etc.) will be available to demonstrate a person received the vaccine?

No doubt, these are tough questions with no easy answers. Frankly, we’re in unchartered territory.

The nation is relying on its communications infrastructure now more than ever. Our member companies are full and devoted partners in the national pandemic response, so we’re posing these questions to state and federal officials in that spirit – and with the safety and wellbeing of infrastructure workers foremost on our minds.

USTelecom will continue to do all we can to ensure our members’ devoted frontline employees have the protections they need to operate safely and to deliver connectivity through this emergency and beyond.

The sooner authorities provide concrete guidance to businesses, the faster (and smoother) the vaccine can get to these pandemic responders, and we can all get healthy and back to normal.