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Federal panel recommends initial coronavirus vaccine doses go to health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is headquartered in Atlanta.Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg

A federal panel on Tuesday recommended that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities be the first to receive vaccines for the coronavirus.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in a virtual meeting on the plan for prioritizing the initial doses of the vaccine.

“Those of us that are in the area of public health at this time see the growing number of cases that is coming before us. We see the growing number of health care providers that have become infected, some of which unfortunately have passed away. We see that the individuals living in long-term ... care facilities are at exceptional risk for mortality and morbidity due to this virus and disease,” said Dr. José Romero, the committee’s chairman.


Romero, who is the secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, said his vote in favor was based on the principles of maximizing benefits, minimizing harms, promoting justice, and mitigating health inequalities.

Committee member Dr. Peter Szilagyi of the University of California Los Angeles said, “One of my favorite people, Mahatma Gandhi, says a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members, and I feel prioritizing health care providers and prioritizing residents of long-term care facilities represents the right decision at this time.”

There have been at least 243,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases among health care workers, with 858 deaths, according to the CDC. And long-term care facility residents and staff have been decimated by the virus. They account for 6 percent of cases and 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the United States.

The two top-priority groups add up to about 24 million people, officials said. Pfizer and biotech firm Moderna are expected to produce 40 million doses of their two-dose vaccines, or enough for about 20 million people, by the end of the year. About 330 million people live in the United States.


Pfizer and Moderna have both applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their vaccines.

Dr. Helen Talbot, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University was the lone dissenter in a 13-1 vote. She expressed discomfort with putting long-term-care residents in the first priority group because the vaccines’ safety had not been studied in that particular population. “We enter this realm of ‘we hope it works and we hope it’s safe,’ and that concerns me on many levels,” she said.

Recommendations from the immunization advisory committee are sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who also informs Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. If the recommendations are approved, they will become official CDC recommendations on immunization in the United States.

The advisory group normally votes after a vaccine has been approved. It met Tuesday, before FDA approval, because states want guidance on priority groups before Friday, when they must submit final details to the federal government on where they want vaccines delivered once they are authorized, The Washington Post reported.

STAT reports that there may be some turbulence ahead, however, with some Trump officials pressing for adults 65 years old and older to be given first access to the vaccine.

A Health and Human Services spokesman told STAT that “the doctors will make their recommendations, and ultimately the governors will make a determination of what works best for their communities based on input they receive and the circumstances on the ground.”


The recommendations from the federal panel comes as anticipation builds in Massachusetts over the state’s plan, which could result in 300,000 residents being vaccinated initially, the Globe reports.

The federal panel’s vote will be followed by a Tuesday evening meeting of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s vaccine advisory group, which will recommend who in Massachusetts will get the vaccines first. The governor’s plan is expected to follow that recommendation.

Robert Weisman and Deanna Pan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used.

Martin Finucane can be reached at