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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses across the United States and the world for almost a year.
Now that vaccines from vaccine providers like Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer have been approved that will help control its spread, and vaccine distribution is underway throughout the U.S., many business owners have questions about who will be able to get vaccinated and when. Understanding this prioritization is the only way they are able to plan for when life — and their operations — could return to normal, or some semblance of it.
Because the supply of coronavirus vaccine is expected to be limited in the U.S. for the next several months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided recommendations to the federal government, along with state and local governments, about who should be vaccinated first. The CDC’s eligibility recommendations are based on input from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent and well-respected group of medical and public health professionals.
The CDC’s recommendations are just that, recommendations. Each state’s department of health is allowed to leverage them to create their own plan about who should receive their vaccine allocations and in what order. You can check your local health department website to learn about current plans for your area.
The recommendations were made to help achieve the following goals:
- Reduce the number of deaths and serious illnesses caused by COVID-19.
- Keep society functioning as normally as possible.
- Lower the extra burden the coronavirus is placing on certain groups of people, including minorities, front line workers and seniors.
Here are the latest recommendations from the CDC about who should receive the coronavirus inoculations. The first ones were released in early December 2020 and have been updated since. The recommendations are divided into phases 1a, 1b and 1c. Depending on vaccine supply availability, the phases could overlap.
Healthcare workers and people living in long-term care facilities should be offered the first doses of coronavirus vaccines.
The CDC recommends that the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine should be made available to medical professionals and long-term care facility (LTCF) residents. The organization is referring to this as Phase 1a.
Healthcare personnel, including paid and unpaid people working in medical settings, should be among those allowed to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. It’s because they’re the individuals who could most directly or indirectly be exposed to COVID-19 patients or face the risk of exposure to infectious materials and substances.
Examples of medical and healthcare providers include:
- Nursing assistants
- Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel
- Medical technicians
- Dental hygienists
- Dental technicians
- Dental assistants
- Medical practice receptionists
- Medical students
- Healthcare trainees
- Healthcare contractors
- Dietary and food service workers in medical institutions
- Administrative workers in healthcare practices.
Healthcare workers can be employed by:
- Acute care facilities
- Long-term care facilities
- Nursing homes
- Assisted living facilities
- Health clinics
- Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
- Home healthcare operations
- Mobile clinics
- Outpatient facilities.
Healthcare workers are being prioritized for several reasons.
People who work in health care settings are on the front lines in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Add to this the fact that many of the people working in healthcare are members of racial and ethnic groups that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. They also typically experience severe outcomes to the disease, such as difficult hospitalizations and death. Prior to the end of 2020, there had been almost 250,000 cases of COVID-19 among healthcare workers and almost 900 had died from the disease.
Another reason for prioritizing vaccinations for medical personnel is because it helps maintain the ability to provide patient care to Americans. The need for it is increasing because of the number of coronavirus cases and capacity to provide it is strained to the limit in many parts of the country. The issue gets worse when healthcare workers get sick with COVID-19 and are unable to go to work and provide important services to their patients and clients. Providing early vaccine access to healthcare professionals helps ensure that the more than 20 million people who provide essential services are able to continue doing so.
inoculating healthcare workers also helps prevent them from infecting their patients and coworkers with COVID-19. Medical professionals who are not aware that they’re infected with it could unintentionally pass it on to others.
The final deciding factor in prioritizing health workers is that officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believe the benefits far outweigh the possible risks. The FDA leveraged an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to make vaccines available to the public faster than usual during the pandemic. In order to do that, they weighed the benefits against the risks before issuing the UAE. After this, the members of ACIP reviewed extensive data about the vaccines and their trials before they voted on whether to approve the them and advise the CDC on whether to recommend them.
With all these layers of testing, review and approval, healthcare workers and others should feel confident about getting vaccinated. Prior to receiving the shots, everyone will be advised of the risks and benefits of the vaccine. In addition, they must be given an EUA fact sheet with complete information about the vaccines. The healthcare workers who have received the early shots have not objected to the information on them. Even after the vaccines are approved and released for use, their safety and effectiveness will continue to be monitored by experts at the CDC and FDA.
Long term care facility (LTCF) residents.
LTCF residents are being allowed to receive early vaccinations because they are part of a population that is considered higher risk and is being particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Older residents of these facilities are more at risk from dying of COVID-19 than any other group.
LTCF residents include any adults who reside full time in facilities that offer a wide range of services, including medical and personal care, to those who are unable to live on their own. LTCF living conditions are congregate settings by nature and they typically serve an older population with underlying medical conditions. This puts residents at increased risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 and experiencing severe complications because of the disease.
As of late 2020, more than 600,000 coronavirus cases and approximately 100,000 deaths were attributed to residents and staff members of long term care facilities. They accounted for almost four out of ten COVID-19 related deaths. This alone is enough to make people in these facilities a top priority for getting the coronavirus shots.
As is the case with medical professionals, officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agree that the benefits of vaccinating people in LTCFs outweigh the risks. Residents can feel confident about getting the shots because all COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in clinical trials that involved tens of thousands of people of different races, ethnicities and ages, including seniors. No significant safety concerns were uncovered during the trials. The most common side effects found during them included pain at the injection site, minor fever and chills.
The CDC and FDA are closely monitoring the ongoing safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in everyone, including people over age 65. For LTCFs, the CDC is working with pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens and other partners to gather information about possible side effects through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Facility staff and family members are also encouraged to report issues as soon as possible. And like everyone receiving the COVID-19 vaccines, people in LTCFs will be advised of the benefits and risks and receive the EUA fact sheet.
The next groups who are expected to be offered the COVID-19 vaccinations.
Once the medical professionals and people associated with LTCFs are vaccinated (receiving a second dose when required) as part of the phase 1a effort, the CDC recommends that the following high priority groups should be offered them as part of the phase 1b and phase 1c rollouts.
- Frontline essential workers. This includes police officers, fire fighters, emergency first responders, corrections officers, postal service employees, food and agricultural workers (including grocery store personnel), public transit service employees, manufacturing workers and educators (including teachers, school support staff and daycare employees).
- People aged 75 plus. They’re being offered early access to the inoculations because they are at particularly high risk of illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus.
- People aged 65 to 74 years old. Those in this segment are also at high risk of getting COVID-19, being hospitalized for it and dying from complications related to it.
- People aged 16 to 64 with underlying conditions. These health issues are known to increase the risk of coming down with serious, life-threatening complications of the coronavirus.
- Other essential workers. These include people who work in food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, transportation, communications, energy, media and public safety.
As more vaccine doses come available, additional segments of the U.S. population will be allowed to receive them. It is expected that approximately 70 percent of the people living in the United States will be vaccinated by late summer, which is when life could begin returning to normal, or some new form of it.
Business owners just need to hang on a little longer to make it through to a better tomorrow. Many economists predict a potential business boom once the pandemic is under control. That boom could come soon, depending on how quickly people get inoculated against COVID-19.