Feb 1, 2021 - Health

Essential workers bumped back in COVID-19 vaccine line

Illustration of a man delivering packages with a giant virus floating ominously above him

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When states decided to open vaccine eligibility more broadly to seniors, it bumped essential workers further down the vaccine line or forced them to compete with a new flood of people for shots, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color, are at higher risk of infection than people who can more easily social distance.

  • Many frontline workers will now wait longer for protection from the virus.

The other side: Older people are generally at highest risk of severe disease or death from the virus. And opening up eligibility was intended to speed up the pace of inoculations — a crucial endeavor, as new virus variants begin to circulate in the U.S.

Between the lines: The tradeoffs surrounding whether to vaccinate older Americans or essential workers first is yet another example of the tension between speed and equity.

  • "If the obsession is over the number of people vaccinated ... we could end up vaccinating more people, while leaving those people at greatest risk exposed to ongoing rates of infection," Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told the Post.
  • An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had initially recommended vaccinating people 75 and older and frontline essential workers in the second vaccine priority group, following health care workers and nursing home residents.

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