Inoculate front-line staff, people over 74 next: CDC

Front-line workers and people over 74 should get shots next, CDC panel says

Debate about who should receive the vaccine in the early months has grown urgent as daily tally of cases has swelled

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. Credit: AFP

Striking a compromise between two high-risk population groups, a panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Sunday to recommend that people 75 and older be next in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the United States, along with about 30 million “front-line essential workers,” including emergency responders, teachers and grocery store employees.

The debate about who should receive the vaccine in these early months has grown increasingly urgent as the daily tally of cases has swelled to numbers unimaginable even a month ago. The country has already begun vaccinating health care workers, and on Monday, CVS and Walgreens were to begin a mass vaccination campaign at the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. This week roughly 6 million doses of the newly authorized Moderna vaccine are to start arriving at more than 3,700 locations around the country, including many smaller and rural hospitals.

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The panel of doctors and public health experts had previously indicated it would recommend a much broader group of Americans defined as essential workers — about 87 million people with jobs designated by a division of the Department of Homeland Security as critical to keeping society functioning — as the next priority population and that elderly people, who live independently, should come later.

But in hours of discussion Sunday, the committee members concluded that given the limited initial supply of vaccine and the higher COVID-19 death rate among elderly Americans, it made more sense to allow the oldest among them to go next, along with workers at the highest risk of exposure to the virus.

Groups of essential workers, such as construction and food service workers, the committee said, would be eligible for the next wave. Members did clarify that local organizations had great flexibility to make those determinations.

Together, the two groups the committee voted to prioritize Sunday number about 51 million people; federal health officials have estimated that there should be enough vaccine supply to inoculate all of them before the end of February.