The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted on Tuesday that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved.
Pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer have applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their vaccines, so distribution may begin within weeks.
But according to the Los Angeles Times, although the 3 million Americans who live in long-term healthcare facilities have been given first dibs, some experts say that the giving the vaccine to the frail and elderly may be dangerous. Historically, this aging population doesn’t respond well to the flu vaccine, for example, and the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine may be more than they can handle.
Nursing homes have already been in the spotlight for their poor track record during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died, accounting for about 40% of the total death toll in the United States, according to November statistics. It’s the massive mortality rate that most likely drove nursing home residents to the head of the class in vaccine priority, said Dr. Helen Talbot, of the department of health policy at Vanderbilt University. She was one of the 14 of the CDC ACIP members, and the only one who voted against prioritizing long-term care residents.
“If you are in a facility and can’t leave, you are not bringing virus into that facility,” said Talbot, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s only the people that work there that bring those viruses with them — from Church, home, restaurants, grocery stores.”
Talbot said she would rather focus on improving the care for older people in nursing homes by ensuring that the workers who feed, bathe, and protect them are vaccinated. Experts point out that 40% of nursing home workers are Black and Latin Americans who have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. Protecting these workers, would indirectly help the residents they care for, said Talbot.
Dr. Paul Hunter, an ACIP member and family medicine specialist from the University of Wisconsin, said that it would be efficient to have both the residents and staff vaccinated. Other experts warned that since older people were not among the clinical trial volunteers, we do not know if the vaccine will be as effective for them as it was for the more than 90% of the general trial population. And we also do not know if the side effects will cause more medical issues, requiring medical workups, or even death.
The ACIP had little choice but to give this hard-hit population a chance to see if the COVID-19 vaccine works, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It won’t necessarily be the home run we want,” said Dr. Talbot. “But it’ll probably be a good solid base.”
© 2021 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.