The life and death choices that determine when you will get vaccinated

Updated: Dec. 31, 2020 at 4:08 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Millions of Americans want to be next in line for a vaccine with widespread coverage unlikely for several months. The task of calculating when it will be your turn is up to national, state, and local leaders.

As a more infectious strain increases the coronavirus’ deadly threat, federal leaders are sticking to their formula for distributing vaccines in short supply.

“Each week, more and more doses of product get manufactured, more get quality controlled and released,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a recent interview, “so it’s going to be an on-going thing every week.”

States receive doses based on their populations over the age of 18. “Keep it simple, it’s transparent,” said Azar. He added that the method was suggested by many of the nation’s governors.

But, almost immediately after shipments began, governors complained they fell short of presidential promises.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said vaccination numbers won’t be as high as hoped by the end of the year. “We are below where we want to be,” he said.

The federal government’s priority list starts with front-line health care workers and those 75-and-older before broadly spelling out who should follow. It’s up to states and hospitals to develop their own, more detailed vaccination rules.

“Those at highest risk of being made sick if they get infected should be at the front of the line,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

Kahn said, for coronavirus, vaccination plans prioritize saving lives over stopping the spread.

At the state level, there’s debate over where teachers, grocery workers and other essential employees should stand.

If Americans get the sense the privileged are cutting the line, Kahn said faith in the system will be lost. “So, there’s been a lot of work to articulate who should go first and why.”

But, dubious choices came to light almost immediately. Some members of Congress question their own priority status. “I was a bit taken aback,” said Rep. Greg Murphy (R-North Carolina) of learning lawmakers would be among the first to receive a shot.

Murphy, a doctor, said he didn’t think twice about getting the shot because he was due to get one anyway given he still practices medicine. He said he came around to the idea of his congressional peers getting the vaccine because they need to be in the Capitol to do the nation’s work.

Khan said top leaders belong in the first wave but it’s less clear where their staff should fall.

Congress still hasn’t devised a plan for covering them.

It’s up to leaders to redesign vaccination plans as new evidence comes to light. Key questions – like whether those who previously caught the virus are immune – remain unanswered.

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