The delicate balancing act between vaccinating vulnerable groups, educating them on safety

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Coronavirus vaccines are expected to arrive in California for distribution in mid-December. Here's a look at who gets the vaccine first and why it's controversial in California.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend a distribution plan that would prioritize vaccinating healthcare workers and nursing home residents.

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Mike Wasserman, who sits on California's vaccine advisory board, is pleased with the decision.

"Healthcare workers are and should be at the top of the list," he said. "Including healthcare workers who work in nursing homes, where the most deaths have occurred from this virus," he said.

According to Wasserman, COVID-19 vaccines intended for healthcare workers and nursing home residents could arrive at local Walgreens or CVS pharmacies in a matter of weeks. That's if the FDA approves EUA for Pfizer or Moderna.

The detailed plan to distribute 40 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to vaccinate 15 to 20 million Americans before the end of the year, is awaiting approval from the CDC.

The first rollout involving 6.4 million doses could be shipped to retail pharmacies in a couple of weeks if the FDA approves the EUA for Pfizer and Moderna.

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Here's who is included on the priority list, also known as "Phase 1A."

  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities (including Skilled Nursing & Assisted Living Facilities)
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Home healthcare
  • Pharmacies
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Public health offices


ACIP Committee Chair Dr. Jose Romero clarified during the meeting this group will have no preferential order.

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Committee members cited at least 243,000 COVID-19 cases infecting healthcare workers since the pandemic began. That figure is even worse for long-term care facilities with 730,000 coronavirus cases infecting both residents and staff as of late last week.

This is why California's advisory committee is pushing for both groups to receive doses at the same time. But, Wasserman fears there will be hesitation.

"The numbers are incredibly concerning," he said. "Twenty percent in some cases of frontline nursing home staff say they will take the vaccine... That means anywhere from 60 to 80 percent are going to refuse. Or not going to be comfortable taking the vaccine."

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"It is unavoidable for me to be in close contact with people who have COVID. So the potential of getting the vaccine makes me at ease," said Lily Muldoon, a San Francisco emergency room doctor.

She treats coronavirus patients at CPMC, San Francisco General Hospital, and a respiratory field tent in the Bayview.

"It's nerve-wracking every day; I have not gotten used to it."

Dr. Muldoon says she knows about 20 Bay Area health care workers who have been infected with COVID-19. Despite that she says, "I was surprised actually at the number of my colleagues who are skeptical of this and would want to wait and see whether this vaccine is effective and make sure there are no side effects before they're vaccinated."

RELATED: CA to receive 327,000 vaccine doses in December, Newsom announces

The amount of vaccine each state will receive is based on a per-capita calculation.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday California is expecting to receive 327,000 doses of Pfizer by mid-December. That's enough to vaccinate just over 163,000 people.

After healthcare workers - who's next in line?

According to ACIP's recommendation, the second phase would include essential workers like police, firefighters, corrections officers and transportation staff.

The third phase would include adults with high-risk medical conditions and adults ages 65 and older.

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