The first doses of the newly approved coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer arrived in Britain last week, with a mass immunization program being launched this week.
But the vaccine may not be going first, as many had expected, to health-care workers who are on the front lines in this battle against the virus.
Instead, National Health Service officials have decided priority will go to residents of care homes for older adults and their caregivers.
When I first read this I disagreed with the move and actually wrote this column originally along those lines because it had long been my thought that the vaccine, if, and or when we got one, should go first to front-line health-care givers.
After all, my thinking went, these are the people we are asking to go head to head with the virus on a daily basis. If they don’t keep up their numbers and succeed in saving as many patients as they can, not only would those in nursing homes suffer the result but the general population would as well.
Also, I had no doubt, considering the number of patients they are losing to the disease, that many would come out of this suffering long-term effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder With the number of deaths being so far beyond the ordinary, I couldn’t see it being any other way.
Under my schematic workers in nursing homes would have fit into this category. I figured if they, who are in and out of these facilities on a daily basis, were vaccinated, the main danger for those living in the homes would be essentially eliminated.
However, I began to reassess my thoughts after reading a comment by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, in regard to how the United States was approaching the rolling out of the vaccine.
“Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority,” he said in a story in The New York Times.
“If your goal is to maximize the preservation of human life, then you would bias the vaccine toward older Americans. If your goal is to reduce the rate of infection, then you would prioritize essential workers. So it depends what impact you’re trying to achieve.”
Health officials in Britain, as mentioned above, have opted for the former.
A story out of the UK indicated that rather than ICU nurses, ventilator specialists and emergency room physicians, the NHS officials wanted to prioritize the elderly and nursing home caregivers because the highest mortality and the largest number of hospitalizations have come from that age group and sector.
However, there has been a glitch in the new scheme. Logistical challenges with ultra-cold storage and transportation means getting it to care homes may take a bit longer.
This has led Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, to say there would be a “blending of the top two groups” because of technical issues with a “delicate” vaccine.
Which will be the route taken in Canada?
Who knows. If the government knows it isn’t telling us because there has been no indication from it that it has anything nailed down in the way of prioritizing who will get the vaccine.
However, we may have been given a hint from a Global News story of about three weeks back which said the general consensus among health experts and government agencies was that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, who are at a greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, should get immunized first.
It appears the United States is leaning in this direction as well.
“Should the country’s immunization program focus in the early months on the elderly and people with serious medical conditions, who are dying of the virus at the highest rates, or on essential workers, an expansive category encompassing Americans who have borne the greatest risk of infection?” a story in The New York Times asked.
Then it indicated health care workers and the frailest of the elderly — residents of long-term-care facilities — will almost certainly get the first shots under guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued on Thursday. But with vaccination expected to start this month, the debate among federal and state health officials about who goes next, and lobbying from outside groups to be included, is growing more urgent.
In Britain, residents in a care home for elders and their carers will be first in line, followed by everyone aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers, although as mentioned there may be some blending of the two.
Third in line will be people aged 75 and over; fourth will be people aged 70 and over and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable; fifth will be 65 and older; sixth will be people aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions; seventh, eighth and ninth will cover 60, 55 and 50 and over respectively.
Many in the health field in Britain are upset with the decision to vaccinate the elderly before front-line health-care workers outside nursing homes and I can understand that because it was the way I felt.
But as much as I want the vaccine for the workers on the front-lines, I also want to keep death from the COVID-19 virus from the doors of nursing homes.
Therefore I believe the vaccine has to go first to where the threat of actual death is greatest.