More than a third of Farmers & Merchants Bank employees in Miamisburg, Ohio have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point in the pandemic, and CEO Shon Myers is hoping his members most at risk will be in the next one. group of American workers in line to get vaccinated.

“Banks must remain open to meet the financial needs of our customers and of society as a whole,” Myers said. “With this mindset, we think it would be very helpful if we could have the vaccine option for at least our frontline employees in contact with customers.”

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which makes recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will hold a vote on Sunday which Americans he advises to be next to get vaccinated on after health workers and the population most at risk have received theirs.

Bank and credit union groups lobbied federal officials to include cashiers and loan officers in this group. But the industry faces a harsh reality: when their employees receive a vaccine will depend on each state.

State health departments have turned to recommendations from the CDC and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency to determine which workers are considered essential when planning for local business closures earlier this year to curb the spread of the virus. . The list would inform the decision on who is next to receive doses of the vaccine, according to several state and federal officials.

A nurse prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at McLeod Health Clarendon hospitals in Manning, SC, Thursday. The first vaccine injections were administered Monday by American hospitals, the first step in a historic campaign to immunize millions of people as deaths exceed the 300,000 mark.

Bloomberg

“Current data shows that many of these workers are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement on the broader essential workforce. “Early access to vaccines is essential not only to protect them, but also to maintain the essential services they provide to American communities. “

While the bank’s frontline employees were on the essential worker list earlier this year, the CDC spokesperson could not yet say whether the bank’s employees would have the same priority when it comes to the distribution of vaccines.

The influential national academies of science, engineering and medicine said in a report in October that “critical workers in high-risk environments – workers who are in industries critical to the functioning of society and to a significantly higher risk of exposure “should be included in the second phase of a vaccine deployment.

But bank tellers, in particular, are not mentioned before a recommendation for the third phase of the vaccinated. The authors of the article estimate that approximately 442,000 cashiers are included in this group.

The American Bankers Association wrote to the CDC on Dec. 10 asking that the next recommended group of vaccines include “frontline bank employees who come into contact with customers, such as cashiers and loan officers.” Other workers in the industry such as traders are not included in the group’s request.

“Ultimately, states will consider the CDC’s recommendations and then have to make their own decisions about where to place essential workers in their immunization phases,” an ABA spokesperson said in a statement. .

A spokesperson for the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions said the group had also been in contact with federal officials, “urging them to support the placement of credit union employees at the top of the list. for the distribution of phase 1b vaccines “.

Although banking regulators have provided information on previous designations of bank workers as “essential workers,” there does not appear to be such influence on when banks can obtain vaccines.

“Beyond the recommendations provided by [Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection] in the spring regarding critical infrastructure workers in the financial services sector, we had no discussions with [the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency] or CDC on vaccine prioritization, ”an administration official, who asked not to be identified, said in an email.

It remains uncertain when states will make their decisions as they scramble to get the first shots in the arms of the most critical healthcare workers and elderly applicants first.

While some states choose to include bank workers in the next group of beneficiaries, it is not clear whether loan officers will be vaccinated along with cashiers, as the industry has insisted. Jennifer Kates, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said she “hadn’t seen anything so detailed at this point.”

“We are in the process of finalizing it,” a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services said of the state’s “Phase 1b” group. “We plan to announce it soon.”

Despite the high number of cases, Farmers & Merchants has not been able to trace a single transmission of COVID-19 in any of its offices. Myers said it was a difficult decision for states to determine the correct order of priority.

“Clearly we don’t want to be in front of our first responders, healthcare workers or those most at risk,” Myers said. “As this virus has lasted so long and seems to continue to spread dramatically, even as we hide and distance ourselves, it creates concerns that we can keep every branch open every day.”

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