A Vaccine Is Not a Cure

Published on : January 29, 2021

About Social Work Responds
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve.


Social workers and educators may submit proposals for CSWE's 2021 Annual Program Meeting (APM) now! The theme of this year's APM is Leading Critical Conversations: Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice, and it is scheduled for November 4–7, in Orlando, FL. Learn more today.

ASWB has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a literature review to examine the current research related to occupational and professional regulation, with an emphasis on social work regulatory best practices. Learn more and download the RFP

NASW has provided guidance to the profession about access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

A Vaccine Is Not a Cure

With the new COVID-19 vaccines, our country has a critical tool for fighting the global pandemic that has devastated many communities, especially those already in need of better access to quality health care. Social workers continue to be an essential workforce on the front lines in responding to the mental health, social care, and economic challenges associated with this crisis. And the Biden-Harris Administration has in just 1 week taken numerous bold executive actions on social policy issues that support social work professionals and lift up the people we serve.

However, a new administration and highly effective vaccines cannot address all the challenges facing our nation. We need healing on so many levels.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach then-president Donald Trump for his role in inciting a White supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It’s unclear whether the Senate will follow suit. Many more actions are needed to address the root causes of the divisions in our country that the riots seem to represent. Social work practitioners, educators, students, and regulators are needed to close the divide.

We also play a role in vaccine deployment by addressing fears some may have about the vaccine's safety and efficacy. We can aid community decision-making based on facts, evidence, and science. Our own communications, whether on social media or in person, must be accurate, fair, and clear. The social work profession has made major contributions to our society's understanding of racism and other public health issues. We must continue to draw on that expertise in responding to both pandemics.

For several months NASW and its chapters have delivered an important series of public town halls, timely professional education, targeted advocacy, and numerous discussions with members across the political spectrum on race, inequity, violence, and ethics. Social workers across all fields of practice are communicating with one another in new ways and challenging the association to do more to advance antiracist social work practice. NASW's Strategic Plan and Program Plan have been updated to reflect these new insights, and NASW is engaging a much broader cross-section of our vibrant profession in its planning and programming. As a result, membership in NASW is growing again.

CSWE’s Antiracism Task Force was convened in July 2020 to identify how CSWE and its member programs can/should be more explicitly antiracist. The workgroup recommendations were shared with CSWE members at CSWE's Annual Program Meeting on November 20. These recommendations are currently being reviewed in preparation for the development of action plans to enhance our Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, conferences and faculty development, and explicit and implicit curricula.

CSWE also continues to advocate for lower costs for higher education. Higher education simply must be more affordable. Cost is a barrier for too many college students, particularly those who are African American. According to CSWE research, African American students reported $21,000 more debt when earning their MSW degrees than their White counterparts. CSWE and NASW have called for Congress to extend the relief provided by the CARES Act by continuing 0% interest-deferred repayments and the suspension of collection activities for borrowers with defaulted loans. People have lost their jobs as a result of the virus and need relief. CSWE continues to push for extending the postgraduation grace period for 1 year for students leaving school and for setting a 1.5% interest rate and 0% origination fee for student loans.

Unlike the education and practice pillars, for which internal change and advocacy can be more immediate to address the tumultuous events and issues of 2020 (and 2021), the regulatory pillar does not change as quickly—intentionally so. The starting point for regulation is legislation. Before regulation can respond to current events, changes in legislation must take place or executive orders must be signed. Typically, the decision to change laws requires considerable discussion and thought to include the perspectives of those whose lives may be affected and to ensure appropriate changes that do not result in unintended consequences.

When challenged by events in 2020, regulators responded to help social workers on two related fronts: staying connected to clients through electronic practice and increasing practice mobility so that social workers could use those electronic modalities across jurisdictional borders. State-imposed emergency orders put these issues at the top of the priority list, and regulatory boards adapted rules and administrative processes to enact those orders. The mandate of the regulatory boards continues to be ensuring safe practice for the citizens in each state. Through that lens, the boards will evaluate all emergency orders as they are set to expire. The lessons of 2020 and a focus on public protection will be central as regulatory boards determine what makes sense for extending deadlines or changing laws to make practice across state lines a future reality.

Last year showed us that we can pivot quickly and still work effectively to address major issues. Maybe in January 2022 we will look back and celebrate how social workers led the way in helping our nation overcome two pandemics.

How You Can Help

CSWE submitted policy principles to the Biden-Harris Administration and 117th Congress that can ensure they advance social work and social work education. Read those policy principles on CSWE's website.

NASW's 2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities was sent to Congress, the Biden Administration, major national coalitions, and multiple other stakeholders this week. Find the report and related resources here.

Regulatory boards always need volunteers, whether to fill vacancies or to be considered for new appointments. If you’re interested in using your macro muscles in a new capacity, ASWB encourages you to volunteer to serve on your social work regulatory board or as a public member on another professional regulatory board.