Panel vote determines who should get vaccine first; Tennessee doctor explains how they decided

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With a COVID-19 vaccine expected in weeks, the big question now is who gets it first. 

A Centers for Disease Control advisory committee tackled those questions Tuesday, and a Tennessee doctor on that committee explained why it’s so hard to make these decisions.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to recommend priority be given to health care workers and nursing home residents in the first days of any coming vaccination program, when doses are expected to be very limited.

The two priority groups encompass around 24 million Americans out of a U.S. population of about 330 million.

Tennessee was one of four states selected to receive initial doses of the vaccine. The local health department says it’s expected in Shelby County around Dec. 15.

That means tough choices ahead for Dr. Keipp Talbot with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and others on the advisory committee on immunization practices. The CDC advisory group gives reccomendations on who gets vaccines and when.

“We’re super excited. The only issue is, there’s only a little bit of vaccine that’s going to be available upfront and we have to wait for more and more,” Talbot said.

With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country, their top priority is clear.

“I think the healthcare workers, for us, it’s very easy because we need them to maintain our healthcare infrastructure,” he said.

Things get trickier from there. A key question was whether nursing home and long-term care facilities would be be part of the first phase of vaccinations.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing based on how well we know the vaccine works, what the side effects of a vaccine might be and what are the ethics and implications on society and the economy. So it’s rather complicated and a little nerve wracking,” Talbot said.

With so much changing, this committee is adjusting how it functions, working not just virtually but in real-time to make the safest decisions.

“We will be reanalyzing all of these recommendations as we learn more, as we have new vaccines and as we learn more these recommendations will get fine-tuned and more specific,” Talbot said.

In the meantime, he’s asking for people to continue doing their part.

“There is hope, hang on to that but in the meantime wear your masks, stand six feet apart and wash your hands,” Talbot said.

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