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CDC panel sets distribution plan for who will get the COVID-19 vaccine first

Healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities will be first to get shots.

Updated: December 2, 2020 - 1:49pm

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An advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday set out how any COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to direct that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to get the shots in the initial rollout — once federal regulators authorize use of a vaccine. The recommendation must be approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield, but governors will eventually have the final say on who gets the vaccine first. 

But those two top-priority groups total nearly 25 million Americans and are most at risk.

"Protection of healthcare personnel leads to preservation of healthcare capacity, and better health outcomes for all," said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, medical officer for the Division of Viral Diseases, the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and the CDC.

"It promotes justice because healthcare personnel put themselves at risk and will be essential to carry out the vaccination program. Vaccinating healthcare personnel also has the potential to mitigate health inequities, because the group includes a broad range of occupations, inclusive of low wage earners and racial and ethnic minority groups," Dooling also said.

In a formal vote, ACIP voted 13 to 1 to prioritize the two groups. The advisory group in later meetings will make recommendations for priority groups in the next phases, which include essential workers and older adults.

Three vaccines are in the pipeline. Biotech firm Moderna on Nov. 23 said it would ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

Moderna is the second pharmaceutical company to request a so-called emergency use authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine, after Pfizer filed its application earlier this month.

Moderna said new data showed the vaccine was 94.1% effective in its late-stage clinical trial, just under Pfizer's efficacy rate of 95%. The Moderna vaccine was developed in conjunction with the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed.

"We believe that our vaccine will provide a new and powerful tool that may change the course of this pandemic and help prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. Bancel said last week that 20 million doses will be available by the end of the year.

A third vaccine is also in the pipeline. AstraZeneca and Oxford University last week said their jointly created COVID-19 vaccine has proven to be up to 90% effective, and they claim it will be easier to distribute.

"These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives," said Oxford University professor Andrew Pollard, who served as the lead investigator for the drug's trials. "Because the vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, it can be distributed around the world using the normal immunization distribution system. And so our goal ... to make sure that we have a vaccine that was accessible everywhere, I think we've actually managed to do that."

Moncef Slaoui, who oversees vaccine development for the White House, said on CNN that once a vaccine is approved for emergency use by the FDA, all 50 states will be able to begin immunizations.

"Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval, so I would expect maybe on Day Two after approval," Slaoui said on CNN's "State of the Union." "On the 11th or the 12th of December, hopefully, the first people will be immunized across the United States, across all states.”

In an exchange with host Jake Tapper, Slaoui said if things go as expected, the country can reach herd immunity by May 2021, which means the population can be protected from the virus after a threshold of vaccination is reached.

"You've said you plan to vaccinate 20 million people in the month of December in the United States and up to another 30 million per month after that," Tapper noted, asking, "How many Americans need to be vaccinated for life to be able to return to normal, and when might that happen?"

"So, normally, with the level of efficacy we have, 95%, 70% or so of the population being immunized would allow for true herd immunity to take place," Slaoui said. "That is likely to happen somewhere in the month of May, or something like that based on our plans."