Who gets coronavirus vaccine first? Maybe not all front-line healthcare workers, HHS committee told

Prioritizing front-line healthcare workers for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available may not necessarily be the most ethical distribution approach, panelists recently told the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, according to CNBC.

The committee, part of HHS, provides peer review, consultation, advice and recommendations to the assistant secretary for health regarding immunization topics. Panelists presenting to the committee Sept. 23 addressed considerations and recommendations for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Public health officials have warned that initial COVID-19 vaccine supply is not expected to be enough to cover high-risk populations such as front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Therefore, it will be necessary to decide which groups will be prioritized.  

On Sept. 1, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report that prioritizes giving the vaccine to healthcare workers in high-risk settings, first responders, people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection and older long-term care facility residents. 

But “the question is, how at risk are healthcare workers, especially in the United States, especially in the era of adequate PPE,” Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said at the National Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting, according to CNBC. “Because at least in our hospital, transmission from patient to doctor with PPE [is] zero.”

Dr. Emanuel added that the distribution plan should prioritize certain healthcare workers if they are more at-risk than others, but having all healthcare workers in the first prioritization group is “probably not justified at this point in the course of the pandemic,” the business news channel reported. 

While some hospitals report adequate supply of PPE, many are still reporting shortages of equipment such as N95 masks and are asking for federal help. And protests have occurred at hospitals across the country over PPE shortages during the pandemic. 

During the Sept. 23 panel, Sara Oliver, MD, a CDC epidemic intelligence service officer, said certain workers in healthcare settings, such as security personnel, nursing aides and delivery workers, who might not have adequate PPE, are most at risk of infection. 

Read the full CNBC report here


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