Vaccines: Deciding who gets priority

Vaccines: Deciding who gets priority

With a pair of highly effective vaccines poised for national distribution, a federal advisory board addressed a knotty question this week, said Lena Sun and Isaac Stanley- Becker in The Washington Post: Who should get them first? Members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issued a hierarchy putting health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities first in line. 

Essential workers, including police, firefighters, teachers, and people who work in food- processing facilities, were expected to get next priority, followed by people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, possibly including the obese. The panel’s recommendations come as emergency approval looms for a pair of vaccines that have shown roughly 95 percent efficacy in stage 3 trials, with Moderna’s claiming 100 percent protection against serious illness. If the federal Food and Drug Administration approves emergency use of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, some 40 million doses could be shipped before Christmas, enough to inoculate 20 million Americans. 

The panel’s guidelines are only recommendations, said Sarah Owermohle in “The Trump administration is shunting to the states hard decisions” about who’ll actually get the limited early doses. That will include deciding which health-care workers get first shot and whether to prioritize hard-hit black, indigenous, and Latino communities. Putting the guidelines into practice is “going to be very messy,” said Josh Michaud of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Tally up the members of the various priority groups and “it adds up to 264 million people,” said Maggie Fox in CNN .com. Healthy adults under 65 and children “may well have to wait until late spring or even the summer” before their turn comes. 

The cavalry is on the way, said Donald McNeil Jr. in The New York Times, but first we must endure “the dark winter ahead.” The U.S. has hit “an appalling milestone”—more than a million new cases every week. “Hospitals in some states are full to bursting,” and superspreader gatherings at Thanks giving will inevitably make things far worse. By March, even as lifesaving vaccines are being pumped into millions of arms, some epidemiologists believe the death toll could nearly double the 250,000 figure we’ve just passed. “The next three months,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown Uni ver sity’s School of Public Health, “are going to be just horrible.”