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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.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.