Just days into the massive effort to vaccinate Americans, the nation’s governors are already parrying competing demands from companies and other interest groups over who will get the next round of doses.
On Sunday, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel is likely to provide a bit more clarity on that question.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to offer new guidelines for whom to vaccinate once states have offered shots to health-care workers and long-term care residents.
The decision is ultimately in the hands of states, and some have made their thinking known, with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly promising to prioritize meatpacking plant workers and Nevada pledging to give ride-sharing and taxi drivers early access to shots.
But many states have been purposely vague, preferring to defer announcements amid uncertain federal guidance, a lame duck presidency and questions about how many doses will be available.
“We’re doing the largest vaccine rollout in American history at a time of a change of administration,” said Jared Moskowitz, director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, who declined to specify which industries and companies will be prioritized in his state. “We just have to be prepared and be flexible.”
Moskowitz said the task of vaccinating health-care workers and long-term care residents will take weeks. Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Meanwhile, companies aren’t standing idly by. Uber Technologies Inc. and DoorDash Inc. are among the firms that have sent letters to all 50 governors, describing their drivers as front-line workers. The North American Meat Institute is lobbying for vaccines for meat and poultry workers. And Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, said it’s in “very preliminary discussions” to acquire vaccines for crew members.
A CDC presentation from November lists examples of “essential workers” -- including those in food and agriculture, transportation and education roles -- but at least some companies are likely to fall into gray areas. Adults with high-risk medical conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions are also in the mix for prioritization.
There are also economic questions. The pandemic has battered the U.S. unevenly, with areas such as leisure and hospitality getting hit particularly hard. First, policy makers must lower consumers’ anxiety.
Inoculating workers isn’t going to solve economic problems if customers are still reluctant to venture out, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “It’s really only when people feel like the coast is clear that we’re off and running,” he said.
Also under consideration is the supply of the vaccines themselves.
On Thursday, a panel of experts who advise U.S. regulators provided key backing for Moderna Inc.’s vaccine, setting it up to become the second vaccine cleared.
At the same time, some vials of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine have been found to contain usable extra doses, underscoring the challenges of accurately projecting availability as states aim to restore their economies to normal.
Every decision “is made from a health standpoint,” said Florida’s Moskowitz, “but let’s be clear: every vaccine we give is also about economics.”
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