California is expecting to receive the first batch of Pfizer vaccines by next week, which will be immediately distributed to groups in Tier 1 of Phase 1a. That includes patients and workers in acute care, psychiatric hospitals, correctional facility hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, dialysis centers, paramedics, EMTs and others providing emergency medical services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control there are approximately 21 million healthcare workers in the country. They estimate there are about 3 million people in long-term care facilities.
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After all of those populations have received the vaccine, people in Phase 1b will be eligible. Who will be in that phase? So far, the CDC has suggested essential workers be in that phase, but that is a broad category that is not specially defined. In a proposed Phase 1 sequence document, the CDC gives examples of the education sector, food and agriculture, utilities, law enforcement, corrections officers and transportation as essential workers. Once the CDC gives its guidance, state health departments will be able to incorporate their own analysis for where priority lies.
Groups have been lobbying to get as high on that list as possible.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted Thursday "I'm asking governors in all 50 states + DC to prioritize drivers & delivery people for early vaccine access."
Dan Ashe, the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, wrote in a letter to the CDC his organization "urges your strong support for inclusion of animal care workers in your phase 1 (b) priority recommendation for essential workers," claiming that an outbreak at a zoo "threatens both the health of humans as well as the animals depending on them for daily care."
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The meatpacking industry is also lobbying hard to be included in "high sub prioritization in Phase 1b" according to KatieRose McCullough, the Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at the North American Meat Institute.
"Meat industry workers are part of the essential workforce and prioritizing them will provide an efficient means of administering the vaccine to a significant number of people who have been identified by CDC as a population that was greatly affected by COVID-19," wrote McCullough in a letter to the CDC.
The National Press Photographers Association also submitted a comment to the CDC on behalf of "journalists who have direct contact with the public on a regular basis, and particularly visual journalists," asking that they "be expressly included in the phase of the COVID-19 vaccine that includes the essential and critical infrastructure workforce."
The CDC estimates there could be about 87 million non-healthcare workers in the country that may fall into an essential worker category.
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Next would be Phase 1c. Unlike the other categories, it would rely less on occupation and more on age and health, giving preference to people over 65 years old or with high risk medical conditions.
Americans under 65 who are healthy and do not fall under a prior category would be the last to get a vaccine. The good new is, by the time that population is eligible, vaccine production should be ramped up significantly and any distribution kinks should be smoothed out.
The CDC expects peak vaccine availability in about 12-15 weeks after vaccine approval.
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