This is who will get the coronavirus vaccine first

Science

  • An independent coronavirus vaccine panel made recommendations to the CDC about who should be the first to get COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The panel decided that long-term care residents and health workers will be vaccinated first, followed by other health care employees, essential personnel, and high-risk individuals. The general public would follow.
  • The CDC will decide whether to accept the recommendation for its guidelines, at which point states are expected to follow the agency’s lead. States would also be able to make changes for their local COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion saw a second life this year as the novel coronavirus turned the world into a reflection of what the movie presented. A rapid-spreading, deadly virus that originated from animals infected people in Asia and then took over the entire world. The film reaches a happy end of sorts, as a vaccine is developed, paving the way for a return to normalcy. Soderbergh got many things right about what a modern pandemic would look and feel like… but the lottery-based vaccination at the end of the film makes no sense.

That’s where reality will diverge significantly from the movie. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are nearly ready for emergency use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will soon issue vaccination guidelines for the US. A panel of experts voted on who should get the vaccine first, and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is expected to make it official soon. States will have the freedom to decide independently, but most will respect the CDC recommendations.


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The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel voted 13 to 1 during an emergency meeting on the recommendation, with Redfield expected to make a decision on Wednesday whether to accept it as formal guidance. The group met before the FDA approved a vaccine to give states time to prepare vaccination logistics.

The independent panel decided to recommend that residents and employees of nursing homes and similar facilities be the first Americans to get coronavirus vaccines. More specific rules might be crafter down the road. For example, residents most at risk of developing COVID-19 complications might be the first to get vaccines. As for staff, people who were not infected within the last 90 days may have priority over people who got the virus.

Health care workers most at risk of exposure should also be included in the first wave of inoculations, The New York Times reported. Personnel most likely to have contact with patients and their families should be prioritized over other health care workers.

Depending on the data from vaccine makers, the guidelines might change, especially when it comes to age groups. The vote wasn’t unanimous precisely because of age-related vaccine safety concerns. Infectious-disease specialist Dr. Helen Talbot, from Vanderbilt University, said that long-term-care residents should not be in the first priority group, as vaccine safety had not been studied on this particular population. But the other panel members thought the high death rate in that group made it a priority.

According to data that The Times compiled, some three million people live in long-term care, and 39% of COVID-19 deaths so far occurred in these facilities. These people could easily be vaccinated in the first weeks, assuming everyone wants to get vaccinated. Immunizations will be optional regardless of group. By the end of the year, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccine supply could reach 22.5 million Americans.

Choosing which of the 21 million health care workers will qualify to receive the first doses will be more difficult.

After these two categories, the next group of people to get vaccines will be essential workers. Some 85 million Americans are included in this group. A division of the Department of Homeland Security came up with a list of workers that states should prioritize: teachers and school personnel, emergency responders, police officers, grocery workers, corrections officers, public transit workers, and others who can’t work from home.

Adults with medical conditions that put them at high-risk would follow, according to the panel. Conditions like diabetes, obesity, and age over 65 would be qualifying conditions. All other groups of adults will follow. The panel has not decided on children, as the vaccine was not tested enough on those under 18.

Vaccine supply will ramp up considerably in the first months of 2021, but the demand would still be greater. That’s why prioritization is needed. By the end of January, vaccines might be enough for 55 million Americans, which involves two-dose regimens regardless of the drug used.

As more vaccines are approved, supply should grow significantly from March onward, with as many as 150 million doses available each month. The general public should have access to vaccines by May or June, according to Operation Warp Speed head Dr. Moncef Slaoui. Dr. Anthony Fauci said recently that most people who want a vaccine might get one by April.

While the CDC and states might be ready to begin vaccinations soon, there remains a significant problem that no panel can quickly fix. Many people are still circumspect about vaccines in general. Others worry specifically about the COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed in record time. Convincing people to get immunized as soon as possible might be the biggest problem for public health officials in the US and elsewhere.

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