Dec 1, 2020 - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Caption: Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston.

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

The big picture: The debate over who should get the vaccine first has roiled the U.S. since the pandemic began.

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC last month that roughly 40 million doses will be available by year's end. That’s enough to immunize about 20 million people, since Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines must be taken in two doses about a month apart.
  • In the U.S., there are roughly 21 million health-care workers and 3 million long-term care residents, per a presentation given during the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that CNBC cites.
  • Most states and local jurisdictions will likely need around three weeks to vaccinate all health-care workers, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told CNBC.

What to watch: CDC director Robert Redfield is anticipated to decide by Wednesday whether to accept the recommendation as the agency’s formal guidance to states.

  • But, but, but: Though states aren't bound to the CDC's guidance, they can provide a framework for planning, which many states adopt. The final call will be made by governors.
  • UPS, FedEx, McKesson trucking and pharmacies are coordinating with Pfizer and Moderna to transport and deliver vaccines.
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