Teachers, grocery workers, prison guards and older Americans may be next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine

The first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to Oregon, Washington and Idaho are scheduled – at least until next month. High-risk health professionals, paramedics / paramedics and nursing homes are given priority to receive the vaccine. But then who?

Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman said that “many, many” industry groups have sent him emails to present his case. Likewise, the Oregon Health Authority reported having received many pleas from industry, unions, interest groups and other entities.

“We feel divided,” said Wiesman during an interview last week. “The vaccine is limited and we need to make the best decisions we can with the data we have and the values ​​that exist in terms of trying to share equitable access.”

Western state governors and state health officials are now considering a final recommendation from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to prioritize future vaccination phases.

On Sunday, a CDC advisory panel voted 13-1 to urge states to give the next round of vaccines to people aged 75 and over, along with “essential frontline workers”. Then, the remaining essential workers, the elderly aged 65-74 and other high-risk people would receive the vaccine in the next phase.

Pharmacy manager Christine Meyer places a tray with 975 doses of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in the freezer after the vaccine arrived at UW Medicine's Montlake campus on Monday morning, December 14, 2020. These are among the first to be distributed in Washington.

Pharmacy manager Christine Meyer places a tray with 975 doses of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in the freezer after the vaccine arrived at UW Medicine’s Montlake campus on Monday morning, December 14, 2020. These are among the first to be distributed in Washington.

Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, pool

Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, said his agency was pleased that the CDC had elevated older Americans to the next vaccination group. Their turn came later, in earlier versions of the guidelines.

“If we could vaccinate 12% of Oregon residents over the age of 70, we could prevent 76% of deaths from COVID-19,” said Modie by email.

States seek guidance from the CDC, but the expert panel’s recommendations are not binding, which means that it is possible for interest groups to influence their state’s prioritization sequence and potentially move on.

Essential frontline workers placed at the front of the line by the CDC include teachers, daycare workers, grocery workers, farmers and food processors, prison staff and postal workers.

Vaccination for this group may begin in mid-January at least, according to Washington’s assistant secretary of health, Michele Roberts. She said that states still do not know how many doses of vaccine they will receive in January, which brings a lot of uncertainty.

An Idaho committee advising Governor Brad Little has already classified and prioritized essential workers for the next phase, placing the police and firefighters who were not in the first group at the head of the next line. These people would be followed by teachers, correctional officers, food processing workers, grocery workers and members of the Idaho National Guard, in that order.

The Washington Department of Health and Governor Jay Inslee’s office said an announcement of the state’s priority list would be posted as soon as it was ready, possibly in a few days. A draft plan for the allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine published online by the state health department several weeks ago includes some modest differences from the recently finalized CDC guidelines.

One difference is that the preliminary state plan prioritized the vaccination of prisoners and inmates. The CDC’s new list ranks correctional personnel highly, but says nothing about where prisoners belong next.

“We are concerned that the CDC has not called people imprisoned in prisons and jails for prioritization,” said Nick Straley, assistant deputy director of advocacy at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle.

“Incarcerated people need to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Straley, noting “huge and horrendous” outbreaks in Washington state prisons and minor outbreaks in several county prisons.

A local Seattle-based union representing grocery workers said it has “high hopes” that its members will make Washington’s vaccine priority list after being included in the CDC guidelines for who should share the next allocation – formally known as Phase 1b COVID-19 immunization unit.

UFCW 21 (United Food and Commercial Workers) spokesman Tom Geiger said the union staff had recently spoken to the state Department of Health and the governor’s office about why its members at risk should be given priority. .

“The federal government could and should do more to maximize vaccine production,” said Geiger in an email. “We are not in favor of an essential worker competing with another essential worker for a vaccine to which both should have access. “

Anthony Anton, the president of a commercial organization representing thousands of restaurants in Washington, said he thought it was appropriate to prioritize teachers for vaccination so that students could return to classrooms soon.

Anton, of the Washington Hospitality Association, said he spoke to a state focus group in favor of giving restaurant workers a place in line after educators.

“We are hopeful that, after these first groups, our workers who are in the public and cannot work from home and from an income / equity point of view are living off wages on wages – so we would love to prioritize them in the next group”, Anton said in an interview on Monday.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote to Inslee, Little, Oregon governor, Kate Brown, and other governors earlier this month to request that the company’s driver also receive early access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The Uber boss said they provide an essential service that other frontline workers rely on.

The new CDC guidelines call transit operators as essential frontline workers who deserve to be in the next vaccination group. A Washington State Department of Health spokesman said on Monday that it is not known whether Uber and Lyft drivers would fall into the same category.

“We know it will take many months, probably during the spring and potentially early summer, before we have enough vaccine for everyone in Washington who wants to be vaccinated,” Assistant Secretary of Health Roberts said during a news conference on Dec. 16.

Roberts said his state is working to build online tools to assess a person’s place in the queue, and then be notified by the state when it’s time to be vaccinated. This information system can also provide links to vaccination sites. Healthcare professionals are likely to notify their high-risk patients when their turn comes, she added.

In the meantime, although people are getting tired of it, people will need to continue wearing masks when they are around other people outside the home, holding small meetings and maintaining social distance, warn state and local health officials.