On December 1, 2020, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—a panel of independent scientific experts on vaccines that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—approved the recommendation that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations.
According to the panel’s recommendation, once a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by ACIP, vaccination in the initial phase, also referred to as Phase 1a, should be offered to the highest-priority groups—an estimated 21 million health-care workers and 3 million residents and staff of nursing homes. According to the New York Times, 39 percent of deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care facilities.
The panel’s recommendation has been formally adopted by CDC Director Robert R. Redfield and is the official CDC guidance to the states. Each state will determine their individual vaccine distribution plans. While states are not required to follow the CDC’s recommendations, “most probably will,” according to Dr. Marcus Plescia, Chief Medical Officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a group that represents state public health agencies.
ACIP will vote on which groups will receive priority next at a future meeting. Essential workers, who are at increased risk of exposure to the virus because of their jobs, are likely to be next, followed by adults with medical conditions and people over the age of 65. It is unclear when children might be able to get the vaccine due to lack of information on the effects of the vaccine in children. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, a coronavirus vaccine could be available to the general American population by April 2021.
CDC officials anticipate that 40 million doses of vaccine could be available in the United States by the end of the year if both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved. This would be enough to immunize 20 million people. However, the supply could be constrained initially, with CDC expecting between 5 million and 10 million doses becoming available each week for the first few months. Increased vaccine production and availability is expected by the spring of 2021 and as additional COVID-19 vaccines are approved.