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A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory panel voted Sunday overwhelmingly in favor of recommending that Americans over the age of 74, and certain groups of frontline essential workers, receive COVID-19 vaccines as the second-highest priority group.
According to The New York Times, the new recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would result in about 30 million frontline workers, including teachers, first responders, and grocery store workers, receiving the vaccine around the same time as Americans over the age of 74. These vaccines would be distributed after the highest priority group — nursing home residents, nursing home staff, and health care workers — receive vaccines.
The panel’s recommendations are non-binding, and still have to be approved by CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who has expressed support for prioritizing the vaccine for people over the age of 70. The new group constitutes around 50 million Americans.
The move comes after the advisory panel expressed support for a far different vaccine distribution framework, one that prioritized nearly 87 million essential workers ahead of Americans over age 65, and appealed to “equity” as a factor in doing so.
“Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionally represented in many essential industries and live in communities that are disproportionally affected,” reads the committee’s meeting notes from November 23. The meeting notes also argue that vaccinating essential workers first provides “an opportunity to really impact equity.”
While the panel’s discussions were never formally offered as recommendations, public health experts who supported such a policy made their motivations publicly known.
“If we’re serious about valuing equity, we need to have that baked in early in the vaccination process,” Dr. Beth Bell, a CDC advisory committee panelist and professor of global health at the University of Washington, told The Washington Post.
“Older populations are whiter,” Dr. Harald Schmidt, professor of health policy and ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told The New York Times. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”
In early December, Dr. Redfield’s office pushed back against the panel’s suggestions that they might formally recommend distributing the COVID-19 vaccine based on equity.
Dr. Redfield looks forward to future recommendations that, based on vaccine availability, demonstrate that we as a Nation also prioritize the elderly (>70 yo) who reside in multi-generation households. Often our Hispanic, Black and Tribal Nations families care for their elderly in multigenerational households and they are also at significant risk. This framework, in addition to the ACIP guidance, will ensure a more equitable distribution to those most at risk for hospitalizations and fatalities.