On Tuesday, a bipartisan and bicameral group of congressional representatives announced that they had come up with a coronavirus relief plan. That $908 billion package includes $16 billion for distribution of a vaccine, which is good, because we're getting closer and closer to release for three potential vaccines.
How exactly to distribute a vaccine to 330 million people is up to a panel called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is comprised of 14 medical and public health experts. The group voted Tuesday on a rollout plan, which is remarkable because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet even approved the promising vaccines.
According to the ACIP's plan, vaccine distribution will work in phases, with priority status given to those most vulnerable, like the elderly, front-line workers, and people who are immunocompromised. After that, the most risk-tolerant populations (young people, able-bodied people, people who are not essential workers) will have access to the vaccine.
Specifically, per the plan the panel approved Tuesday, health care workers are first in line to be vaccinated during what's been dubbed Phase 1a, along with nursing home residents and staff members. That's about 21 million workers and 3 million older people and long-term care facility staff who would get the vaccine first. Next in line, per the ACIP's preliminary plan, are other essential workers (about 87 million people), those with "high-risk medical conditions" (about 100 million people), and older adults (about 53 million people). The panel will vote on specific priorities among those groups at future meetings.
For now, the plan that was approved Tuesday will be submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the agency approves the recommendations, that will be the nation's official plan for vaccine distribution, and states will begin operating under those guidelines.
But even with three companies producing vaccines in record time, there aren't enough doses to immediately meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable. According to The Washington Post, "U.S. officials anticipate having about 40 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and biotech firm Moderna by the end of the year." That number alone would barely meet the task of inoculating that first group of health care workers, because there's a big catch: A full vaccination requires two shots, or two doses, of the vaccine.
In any year, pushing out a national health strategy would be a bureaucratic nightmare, but this year is something else entirely, given how high the stakes are and how inadequate the funding is. "I can tell you, in my opinion, this is the most weighty vote we have given in my seven years on the committee," Jose Romero, the ACIP’s chairman and the Arkansas secretary of health, told the Post.
But even with Tuesday's vote on the distribution plan, whether or not the vaccines get where they need to go is a matter of funding. States have been asking for federal support for months, as even the rainy day funds have gone dry. States will submit orders for vaccines by Friday, CNN reported.