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Doctor Explains CDC's Process for Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccinations

A panel of advisers with the CDC will have an emergency meeting Tuesday to talk about how the vaccine will be given out, and who should receive it first

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A panel of advisers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will have an emergency meeting Tuesday to talk about how the vaccine will be given out, and who should receive it first.

Although some manufacturers have started stockpiling the vaccine, relatively speaking there won't be a lot to go around, making that first wave critical.

David Smith is a practicing virologist, professor and chief of infectious diseases and global public health at UC San Diego. He explains that the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) routinely reviews all vaccinations we receive like measles, mumps and rubella.

“Who's it safe for? Who's it work for? How much vaccine do we have? Who should be the ones that get it first? Or get it the most?” Smith asked. "They are experts. They know how infectious diseases work, they know how vaccines work."

As supplies will be limited initially, the panel listed healthcare personnel, people with high-risk medical conditions, those older than 65 and essential workers as the first group to receive the vaccine.

“That means we are gonna go to nursing homes and frontline workers so they can be the ones that, the frontline workers anyways, can be able to protect us if we need it,” Smith said.

Also considered high priority are communities already facing disparities.

“Our African American communities and our Latinx communities were hardest hit by this infection,” Smith said. “So it goes back to infectious diseases like to harm the most vulnerable of us. So I applaud these vaccine guidelines saying, 'Hey, we need to take that under consideration and the most vulnerable of us need to get it first.'”

One challenge the among vaccine process, according to Smith, is reaching an 80% vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

“If everybody in the population is susceptible to the virus and one person gets it, they’re gonna spread it to four other people,” Smith said. “That means you gotta get it down from that one person spreading it to four people, to one person spreading it to only one person or less. So if it spreads it to four people then you gotta get 80% of those people protected, down to one or less.”

Distribution as far as doctors and hospitals go may work similarly to the push for flu vaccinations. Davis might receive a list of patients he sees in a day that he needs to address about the vaccine.

As the FDA moves to review the safety data for several of the pharmaceutical companies in the vaccine race, important questions remain.

“Now we need to know how long does that last and are there long-term risks from those vaccines? That’s why we do science and that’s s why those trials will continue to go on,” Smith said.

The ACIP meeting will be livestreamed here starting at 11am PST.

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