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National Committee Recommends Who Should Be First In Line For A Coronavirus Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson
Via AP
In this undated photo provided by Johnson & Johnson in September 2020, a woman receives an injection during phase 3 testing for the Janssen Pharmaceutical-Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States.

A Carnegie Mellon University researcher is part of a national committee that recently produced a reporton the equitable distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

The committee, organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, said its analysis will be used to inform national public health authorities on how to fairly distribute an eventual vaccine, which will initially be in limited supply.

Committee member Baruch Fischhoff, who studies decision making and risk analysis at CMU, said the recommendations aim to create a thoughtful, science-based framework that does not pass moral judgment.

“They don’t say we’re trying to rectify historical health inequities. They don’t say we’re not going to give the vaccine to people who are somehow determined to be irresponsible,” he said.

The report weighs four criteria: the odds of an individual contracting the virus, a person’s overall health, the societal impact of certain individuals falling ill, and how likely certain people are to spread the virus to others.

Fischhoff says that final consideration is hard to predict because different parts of the country follow vastly different mitigation practices, such as wearing face masks.

“If we as a country were all on one page regarding the use of face masks, you’d have much better behavior than in the current chaotic situation,” said Fischhoff.

The report recommends that those who work in health care settings be the first to receive the vaccine due in part to their high risk of exposure. This group includes not only medical workers, but also people who provide transportation or cleaning at health care facilities, as well as those who work in nursing homes or as home health care aids.

After health care workers, the report says vaccinations should go to older adults living in long-term care facilities and people who are at risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes due significant health issues. Those groups are followed by K-12 school staff and childcare workers, incarcerated populations, individuals living in homeless shelters, and people with less significant health risks.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.