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Another boon from vaccinating millions of Americans: Jobs

COVID-19 vaccine efforts face new challenges
Millions of Americans vaccinated, but COVID-19 vaccine efforts face new challenges 05:19

Armies of vaccinators are working day and night to inject the COVID-19 vaccine in Americans' arms. But beyond offering the best hope for beating the disease, the massive public health effort is helping the U.S. rebound in another important way: creating jobs. 

The vaccine rollout has spurred demand for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other medical professionals qualified to administer vaccines. Hiring is also brisk for roles such as record keepers, delivery drivers and security guards, who are crucial to making the U.S. one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. 

"A massive vaccine rollout certainly creates new jobs — from clinic clerks and managers to nurses, medical assistants/techs and pharmacists," said Dr. Christine B. Whelan, a clinical professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin. "There are the truck drivers to transport the vaccines and the computer folks to create the sign-up portals."

Looking for needle skills

The sudden demand for immunizers in the U.S. has become so great that a number of states have expanded the scope of professionals eligible to become trained to administer vaccines. 

In New York, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo in December signed a temporary executive order growing the pool of eligible vaccinators to include practical nurses, pharmacists, midwives, dentists, dental hygienists, podiatrists and emergency medical technicians who undergo relevant training. 

Newly credentialed individuals in New York and elsewhere have staffed pop-up vaccination sites in communities across the country. 

"Traditionally, vaccinations are given out by health care providers within normal course of business, but we know this is not a normal operation. Vaccinations are being given out not only within the traditional system of health care in the realm hospitals and pharmacies, but also at points of dispensing or pods," said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a public health preparedness fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Additional personnel is required to administer the vaccinations at those sites with specific training to do so." 

Training dentistry students

Mark Miller, an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University's school of dentistry, in the fall started training dental students to administer flu shots to the university's staff.

"In December, that morphed into vaccinating all of the workers here against COVID-19," Miller told CBS MoneyWatch. 

To date, Miller said he has trained about 400 dental students to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.  "A lot of people see the dentist more often than their doctor, so we have an opportunity to vaccinate a lot of people," he said. 

Miller, who recently gave up his own dentistry practice, said administering the vaccine would have taxed his small operation. 

"There is record-keeping involved. The vaccine has to be refrigerated, there's keeping track of the right lot numbers and a lot of follow up. I would have had to bring somebody else on, at least on a part-time basis, to have someone do it all," he said. 

Vaccine job postings

Listings for a range of roles related to COVID-19 vaccinations have proliferated on job boards since the immunizations were approved under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. 

As of April 16, job listings for pharmacy-related jobs were up 55% compared to before the pandemic, according to Indeed Hiring Lab, which is run by a team of economists who study the labor market. 

"Many of them are pharmacist and pharmacy technician roles, and it's really the job of getting shots straight into people's arms," said AnnElizabeth Konkel, a labor economist at Indeed Hiring Lab.

Job listings with descriptions containing the phrase "COVID-19 vaccine" have "taken off" since vaccines first became available at the end of 2020, according to Konkel. As of April 1, such postings were up 287% this year, according to Indeed. 

"As the vaccine rollout has taken off, we've seen these job postings take off, too," Konkel said. 

By contrast, Indeed has observed a parallel decline in listings for contact tracers, which peaked in late December before vaccines became widely available. At the time, public health efforts were focused on testing and tracing infected individuals to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"It went from, how are we going to live with COVID and no vaccine — and how will we navigate society — to now the focus is getting vaccines into people's arms," Konkel said. "That is one of clearest shifts, moving from contact-tracing roles to needing people to administer the vaccine and help us get back to normal."

Crowd control 

A large share of vaccines have been administered outside of pharmacies, hospitals and traditional medical settings. Pop-up and drive-through community clinics have shuttled large volumes of patients through the vaccination process. For example, the Javits Center in New York has been converted into a vaccination center.

Jessica Johnson-Cope, CEO and president of Johnson Security Bureau, based in the Bronx in New York City, has found new business in health care security. Johnson-Cope said the company has scaled up its operations to prevent theft and vandalism at COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites across the city.  Her staffers currently secure 17 of New York City Health + Hospital locations and outpatient facilities. 

"We started securing COVID-testing sites where they erected tents. We were called on to secure equipment inside tents and the tent structure itself," Johnson-Cope told CBS MoneyWatch.

Security staffers also helped control crowds as lines for testing and vaccinations grew.

"We also provide directions and information to individuals who come to receive the vaccines," Johnson-Cope said. "We supplement the hospital police with watch guard services."  

As of February 28, up to 33% of Johnson-Cope's 130-plus person staff was assigned to health care facilities, compared to less than 10% before the pandemic. But she also noted that some workers are fearful of securing vaccination sites. 

"When they hear COVID they are scared. They don't want to be in a facility that might increase their chances of being exposed to the virus. They're concerned about the risk of bringing something home to their family members," she said. 

Employees who are eager to work, on the other hand, are being assigned more hours. 

"We've had to hire at increased rates, but we also see some people aren't ready to come up off the bench," Johnson-Cope said. 

Promoting the vaccine

Some Americans remain hesitant about receiving the vaccine, given the speed with which it was developed and also its relative newness. In response, community health systems are ramping up efforts to promote the vaccine and help individuals overcome any fears about its efficacy and safety. 

"There is a huge boom in the health-promotion workforce thanks to the vaccination effort," said Lindsey J. Leininger, a public health educator and professor at the Tuck School of Business.

U.S. coronavirus vaccinations slow amid growing hesitancy 10:35

The "health promotion" workforce encompasses community health workers who help build confidence in the vaccine at the community level. 

"It's very grass roots and involves having hard conversations with people in the community to help them feel more comfortable about getting vaccinated," Leininger told CBS MoneyWatch.

Career opportunities

While some health care promotion work will be temporary, these roles can also lead to full-time work down the road, according to Leininger, who trained a team of health care navigators to guide individuals through Obamacare enrollment. 

For example, some of the navigators she trained have since become insurance brokers after obtaining their licenses. She's confident that some health care promotion jobs will also be stepping stones to full-blown careers. 

"I feel confident that we can get these people some new skills in a way that grows equity and that there are stepping-stones to other career paths, like navigating the health care system, health coaching and clinical integration. These are needs that won't go away, and these people will be able to step into those roles going forward," she said. 

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