FAQs: What Dentists Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine and Trials

The coronavirus continues to affect daily life, but some are starting to feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel. A New York Times journalist, for example, describes feeling “cautious optimism” as we head into the winter with a vaccine in sight, which will set the record for fastest vaccine development ever in the U.S.

As the provider of essential health services, the COVID-19 vaccine is likely on your radar, including what it means for your practice, staff and patients. These FAQs specific to dentists can help you know what to expect as you continue to monitor the vaccine trials.

Should dentists be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Ultimately, whether to receive the vaccine for COVID-19 is a personal decision, notes an informational resource recently published by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA also adds that “it remains to be seen if the vaccine will be required for healthcare workers.” Until a vaccine is developed, there will be uncertainties about it, such as yet unknown risks, that could impact a person’s decision to receive the vaccination.

Will dentists get priority for a vaccine?

The ADA is advocating for dentists to be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, given dentists’ role as essential healthcare workers. ADA President Chad Gehani co-authored a letter with ADA Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin to the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus. In it, they wrote, “Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier 1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing diseases, and possibly even save lives.”

What do we know about the COVID-19 vaccine trials?

The vaccine is expected to be authorized under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to beat the previous record for vaccine development of four years. The rapidity is thanks to Operation Warp Speed, which allows pharmaceutical companies to skip exploratory work and pre-clinical studies, and relies on EUA instead of the typical regulatory review process.

Two vaccine trials, one by Johnson & Johnson and the other by Eli Lilly and Company, were put on hold in October for safety reasons, a move which one expert says should reassure people that the “ethical guardrails on vaccine trials are working.”

To read more about the process of the clinical trials, reference the ADA resource.

When will the vaccine be released to the public?

As of mid-October 2020, several vaccines have completed the first two phases of clinical trials. No vaccine has yet completed Phase 3 or received EUA approval, but the goal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is to have initial doses available by January 2021.

What can I do to keep my practice safe until a vaccine is widely available?

There are many steps dentists can take to keep their practices open and safe until a vaccine is available. Consider implementing social distancing, removing communal toys and magazines from the waiting room and enforcing mask-wearing. For further guidance for dental settings, visit the CDC.

Can I administer COVID-19 tests in my dental office?

Yes, dentists in New York State can administer COVID-19 point-of-care tests, according to Executive Order 202.61. Be mindful of the requirements included in the Executive Order — dentists must be certified, have the right test, and follow the three-hour reporting requirement using the Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System (ECLRS).

Dentists are reminded to visit the New York State Dental Association website for up-to-date information on NYS Health Law alerts and more. MLMIC also encourages dental providers to monitor all COVID-19-related updates on our resources page and continue to monitor our blog for additional guidance on safely managing practices during the pandemic.