Smart: Prioritizing Frontline Healthcare Workers and Nursing Home Residents for Vaccines Makes Sense

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Posted: Dec 03, 2020 10:15 AM
Smart: Prioritizing Frontline Healthcare Workers and Nursing Home Residents for Vaccines Makes Sense

Source: AP Photo/Hans Pennink

In a momentous development Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced governmental approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency general use. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the move as a game-changer, stating that Britons will begin to get inoculated next week. The long-awaited moment is finally arriving across the pond, with a similar trajectory soon to follow here in the United States -- an extraordinary and borderline miraculous turn of events. Here's the PM, followed by a few details:

Britain authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for use Wednesday, greenlighting the first shot backed up by rigorous scientific review. The first vaccinations are expected within days — a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic. The go-ahead for the vaccine from American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated the global economy. Officials cautioned that several tough months still lie ahead, even in Britain, given the scale of the operation needed to vaccinate large swaths of the population. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the U.K., recommended the vaccine for emergency use after it reviewed a raft of data, including the results of clinical trials that showed it was 95% effective and offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. 

"Ending the pandemic" is a wonderful phrase to read, as that outcome starts to become a reality, rather than an aspiration or dream. Here's what the British government has decided in terms of the sequencing of vaccine availability:


This seems sensible to me, and it pretty closely aligns with US officials' policy calls earlier this week on the same subject:

Health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first groups to be offered the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a new proposal from an independent advisory committee within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met virtually on Tuesday to discuss who would receive the first doses of the vaccine and to vote on the proposed language for the recommendation. The proposal passed 13 to 1. The panel of outside scientific experts makes recommendations to the CDC, which almost always accepts them...The first phase of the vaccine rollout will be known as Phase 1a and is set to begin as soon as a vaccine receives authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which is currently reviewing data on two vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna. The FDA’s advisory committee will meet on Dec. 10 to consider an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine.

The Pfizer meeting comes one week from today, followed by a meeting on Moderna's vaccine candidate. Both vaccines have shown overwhelming effectiveness with minimal and mild side effects over the course of thorough clinical trials, an incredible accomplishment. Both pharmaceutical companies have partnered with the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed to achieve this historic life-saving feat. Presuming both will be approved, officials have said that tens of millions of Americans will receive the vaccines by the end of the month (each vaccine requires two injections, several weeks apart). Because there will be finite qualities of the vaccines in the early going, public health officials have made the aforementioned prioritization schedules to determine who gets the first doses right out of the gate. As I indicated above, their plans seem intuitive and reasonable to me.

Based on everything we know about the virus, elderly people with co-morbidities are in the most danger, by far, in terms of serious illness or death. One of the biggest reasons American life has been so deeply disrupted for months on end is a sweeping attempt to prevent the inadvertent infection of vulnerable populations. If we begin by protecting those very populations, that will immediately start to lessen the lethal impact of the pandemic, as well as other related impacts. The piece about frontline healthcare workers also makes all the sense on the world, for two reasons. First, the women and men who are exposed to people with the virus on a daily basis clearly deserve the vaccine as soon as humanly possible. Their efforts have been heroic for months. They should be at the very front of the line. Secondly, and also importantly, images of doctors and nurses eagerly receiving these vaccines will represent a powerful endorsement of the process.

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Many Americans are skeptical of receiving the injections, according to polls -- but some may decide that if it's good enough for our healthcare professionals with the most knowledge on these matters, and "skin in the game," it's good enough for them. Relatively high rates of vaccination participation will be necessary to achieve herd immunity, at which point the pandemic well and truly will end, God willing. And given the amazing efforts already underway, and logistics in place, the argument that the Trump administration had "no plan" on vaccine distribution should be put completely to rest. That was a political lie. I'll leave you with a great idea to help support a wonderful American ally being targeted by Communist China because they dared to demand an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, in addition to speaking out on human rights abuses. If you're inclined to celebrate positive vaccine news by raising a glass, consider drinking Australian wine: