An advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to vote on priority designation of COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday afternoon, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prepares to review two vaccine candidates this month for emergency use authorization.
The meeting Tuesday will lay out vaccine administration priorities, which are largely expected to put health care workers and nursing home staff and residents at the top of the list. But some experts also say vaccinating minority communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, should also be a priority.
How distribution will work a the local level and whether there will be enough doses to vaccinate health care workers and the elderly, however, remains to be seen.
Dr. Joshua Lesko, an emergency physician at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, wrote Monday, “The anticipated (40 million) doses … are not enough to adequately cover even these two groups.”
But the CDC vote Tuesday is focused on the very first group, dubbed Phase 1a, which might only include health workers, according to commentary from previous meetings.
The need for a vaccine for health workers has escalated in recent weeks, as the country anticipates even more pressure on hospitals and health facilities after Thanksgiving. Hospitalizations have already soared in aggregate, even as daily numbers are declining slightly due to stricter thresholds for admitting patients. As of Tuesday, nearly 100,000 individuals were hospitalized.
Experts are also focused on the upcoming administration change, as President-elect Joe Biden will be in office when a majority of the vaccines are distributed.
“It would make sense for the Biden COVID-19 Advisory Board to be involved in these decisions, but I doubt that level of cooperation is being offered by the outgoing administration—which is unfortunate,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Meanwhile, as President Donald Trump faces the end of his administration, what will happen to Operation Warp Speed and its top officials remains a question. But the White House’s coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, resigned Monday.
The resignation of the controversial adviser, whom some saw as unqualified for the post, is likely to bring relief to White House COVID-19 task force members. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said many times he disagrees with Atlas and his views.
Most notably, Atlas pushed the idea of herd immunity, that is allowing Americans to get sick and avoid mitigation tactics to promote greater natural immunity to the virus.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said on Twitter, “Few people (are) as responsible for how badly things are going as Scott. His tenure on federal payroll (is) truly awful.”
Jha added that Atlas spread misguided data and made several erroneous claims about the virus, as he “found a buyer” in Trump. Atlas, however, said he relied on data and had the support of experts at top institutions.
“I always relied on the latest science and evidence … These views were in agreement with those of many of the world’s top epidemiologists and medical scientists,” Atlas said. “I cannot think of a time where safeguarding science and the scientific debate is more urgent.”
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