An advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended, by a vote of thirteen to one, that the next two groups of Americans to receive the coronavirus vaccine should be those seventy-five and older and frontline essential workers.
The so-called Phase 1b group is estimated to include about forty-nine million people, or nearly 15 percent of all Americans, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Frontline essential workers include firefighters, police officers, teachers, corrections officers, grocery workers, food and agricultural employees, manufacturing workers, U.S. postal service employees, and public transit workers, among others.
According to the committee, these workers “are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure” to the novel coronavirus.
“I would like to note that the persons seventy-five years and older represent 8 percent of the population, 25 percent of hospitalizations and have a very high death rate,” Dr. Katherine Poehling, a member of the ACIP, said after the vote on Sunday.
“Frontline essential workers have high exposures. They include a disproportionate share of racial and ethnic persons who also have a disproportionate share of hospitalizations.”
The committee’s recommendations will now go to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who generally follows the guidance.
The ACIP also recommended that Phase 1c should include individuals between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four, those between sixteen and sixty-four who have high-risk underlying conditions, and the remaining essential workers. This group represents roughly 129 million Americans, about a third of the country’s population.
The remaining essential workers include transportation and logistics workers, food service workers, construction workers, finance employees, IT and communications workers, energy workers, media personnel, legal workers, engineers, and wastewater workers, according to the ACIP.
For Phase 1A, the ACIP had already tabbed health-care professionals and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes. There are about twenty-one million health-care workers and three million long-term care facility residents in the United States, according to the committee.
“To date, more than 240,000 health-care workers have contracted COVID-19 and 858 have died. According to estimates, deaths in long-term care facilities account for 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide,” the CDC said in a statement.
Current projections point to the United States having enough vaccine doses for twenty million people in December, thirty million in January, and fifty million in February.
“We are faced with the situation, at least in the short term, where we have a limited supply of vaccine available to us,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said before ACIP’s vote.
“What that means is that there will be difficult choices about who gets that vaccine first.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.