CDC panel recommends healthcare workers, nursing home residents get COVID-19 vaccine first

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An independent panel of 14 experts in public health, immunology and virology advised the CDC that healthcare workers especially at risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus and long-term care facility residents and staff should be the first to receive COVID-19 vaccines once the FDA grants approval, the New York Times reported.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to make the recommendation during a Dec. 1 emergency meeting. CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, is expected to decide Dec. 2 whether the agency will accept the recommendation as its formal guidance, according to the NYT.

The panel acknowledged that its recommendation is an interim one, and is subject to change as more is discovered about the COVID-19 vaccines' efficacy in different age groups and drugmakers' manufacturing capacities.

Helen Talbot, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University, was the only panel member to vote against the recommendation, saying she was uncomfortable with categorizing nursing home residents in the first priority group because vaccine safety in this population has not been explicitly studied. 

"We enter this realm of 'we hope it works and we hope it’s safe,' and that concerns me on many levels," she said during the meeting.

States usually follow the panel's recommendations, but they are not required to do so. Governors, consulted by health officials, get to make the final decision.

The emergency meeting came the day before the United Kingdom became the first country to grant emergency approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after it has completed clinical trials, as its equivalent of the FDA granted emergency use authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNtech. The country said it will publish its final guidance on who will receive the first doses shortly, saying that healthcare workers, nursing home residents and those with clinical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 will be prioritized. 

Both Pfizer and Moderna have submitted applications for emergency use authorization to the FDA, both of which are currently under review. The drugmakers predict they will produce enough doses to vaccinate at most, 22.5 million Americans by the end of 2020, according to the NYT.

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