An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted 13-1 Sunday to put “frontline essential workers” and people age 75 or older next in line for a vaccine against Covid-19.
Phase 1a — the “jumpstart Phase” — began last week and included high-risk healthcare workers and first responders.
The Phase 1b recommendation includes 49 million people — almost 15 percent of Americans — of all ages including frontline essential workers and people with comorbid and underlying conditions that put them at significantly higher risk, according to the CDC. That includes teachers, grocery store workers, police and public transportation workers and older adults living in congregate or overcrowded settings.
Phase 1c includes other essential workers such as food service staff, people working in IT, finance, construction and the media.
Blacks people are almost three times more likely than whites to work in healthcare support such as nursing assistants or orderlies. They are twice as likely to work transportation jobs such as bus and taxi drivers and movers, according to World Medical & Health Policy.
Black Americans are also more likely to work in seven other occupations deemed essential during the pandemic, Healthcare Finance reported. These include food preparation, building and grounds maintenance, police and protective services, personal care (childcare workers, hair stylists), administrative support, production such as assemblers, painters or machinists, and social work and community services.
One reason to prioritize essential workers is that Black and minority communities are overrepresented among them, according to Dr. Peter Szilagyi of the University of California, Los Angeles, CNBC reported. Black communities in the U.S. have been hit disproportionately hard by covid, dying at higher rates than white Americans.
There’s a limited supply of vaccine available, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a meeting on Sunday. “What that means is that there will be difficult choices about who gets that vaccine first.”
In April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recognized journalists as essential workers, Poynter.org reported. It said, “Workers who support radio, television and media service including, but not limited to front-line news reporters, studio, and technicians for newsgathering, and reporting, and publishing news” are included as essential.”
Essential workers amount to around 87 million people, the CDC said. These include frontline essential workers (about 30 million) and other essential workers (57 million). Here’s how the CDC breaks it down:
Frontline essential workers (30 million):
Other essential workers (57 million)
“Frontline essential workers have high exposures. They include a disproportionate share of racial and ethnic persons who also have a disproportionate share of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Katherine Poehling, a member of the committee, after the vote, CNBC reported.
The National Press Photographers Association filed a request on Nov. 23, 2020 with the CDC Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices asking “that journalists who have direct contact with the public on a regular basis, and particularly visual journalists, be expressly included in the phase of the covid-19 vaccine that includes the essential and critical infrastructure workforce.”
“Journalists must work in the conditions they find — regardless of the risk,” the letter stated, according to Poynter. “While others have the option to walk away from large crowds, or to avoid members of the public that don’t follow CDC health guidelines, visual journalists repeatedly put their own safety at risk to document what is occurring and inform their communities, large and small. As a result, we have seen visual journalists become infected, hospitalized, and even, unfortunately, succumb to covid-19.”
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CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield typically accepts the committee’s recommendations, CNBC reported. This sets up federal guidelines on how states should implement distribution. However, state officials have the final say on distribution. The CDC earlier this month recommended that states first prioritize health-care workers and long-term care facility residents during the initial rollout of the vaccines.
Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s program to fast-track vaccine production, estimates there will be enough vaccine to vaccinate 20 million people in December, 30 million in January, and another 50 million by the end of February, StatNews reported.
“Vaccinating older adults first averts slightly more deaths, while vaccinating younger adults first, essential workers and younger adults with high-risk conditions, averts slightly more infections,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling with the CDC.
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