Important conversations are continuing in Washington around who in the United States will be among the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine once one becomes available, health officials said during a Senate appropriations hearing on Thursday.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in the hearing that the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice has been mulling over who should be prioritized. ACIP held a meeting last week during which it was considered that maybe the highest priority should be given to health care personnel and essential workers.
In a previous ACIP meeting, some other proposed priority groups that were discussed included adults ages 65 and older, long-term care facility residents, people with high-risk underlying medical conditions and pregnant women, among others.
"Clearly the most vulnerable and those individuals who are at greater risk for mortality have to be considered as well as those individuals at great risk for infection because of what they do," Redfield said during the hearing on Thursday, adding that health care workers and caregivers specifically are at an increased risk.
"Depending on which vaccine is approved, it might have particular characteristics making it more or less appropriate in given populations," Redfield said on Thursday. "At the end of the day, it’s really going to be dependent on the characteristics of the particular vaccine product."
Such discussions around how the vaccine should be distributed could extend beyond ACIP, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
"This may be a moment to actually bring together a group of big thinkers who could take a high-level view of this and lay out a value of principles that could be utilized by the CDC committee ACIP," Collins said during Thursday's hearing.
"That might be something best done by an organization that is not itself governmental," Collins told lawmakers. "We are having a conversation very early on with the National Academy of Medicine about whether they would be the place to convene such a discussion, and we can keep you posted on that."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, said during the hearing "put me down as thinking that's a good idea" in regard to including the National Academy of Medicine in discussions around vaccine distribution.