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As scientists hustle to develop a coronavirus vaccine, the push for first dibs is already underway

Advocates for a dizzying array of interest groups have already begun mounting their appeals.

As scientists hustle to develop a coronavirus vaccine, the push for first dibs is already underway Advocates for firefighters, hard-hit minority groups and others make their case.

As medical researchers sprint to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, there is a new race underway — for a spot at the front of the line to be inoculated amid what will likely be a gradual rollout of doses.

Advocates for a dizzying array of interest groups have already begun mounting their appeals – to political leaders and the trusted medical groups that will advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in developing a plan to begin distributing vials of any vaccine that is approved for use.

Evidence of the intense interest was on full display last week, as dozens of advocates appeared in an open online hearing hosted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine – a listening session that lasted 5 hours.

Federal officials have asked the revered nonprofit to develop a priority list that the CDC could use knowing that it is almost certain any vaccine will not reach everyone in the country right away, and there is little way to predict how long a roll-out would take. The CDC said the issue is still being studied, and an advisory group is set to meet again later this month to discuss it.

Among those making the case for early access to a vaccine were advocates for firefighters, hard-hit minority populations, children with rare genetic disorders, prison inmates, the elderly, the homeless, school janitors, Alaskan Native American tribes and emergency dispatchers, to name just a few.

Several raised concerns that any final plan, which prioritizes health workers, first responders and the elderly, who account for the vast majority of coronavirus deaths, would not adequately take into consideration race, which was also a significant factor in disease severity and mortality. Others expressed concern that the draft plan under review, which was well-received overall, had left some categories, such as “educators” too vague — potentially discounting support staff.

Several Democratic lawmakers told ABC News they are intent on policing the process to make sure it is divorced from the influence of politics or lobbying – something they fear could infect the vaccine approval process.

“The initial doses will be limited at least in supply at the very beginning,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, the president of the academy’s Institute of Medicine. “Given this, the scarce vaccine will need to be allocated in ways that are thoughtful, strategic and fair.”

Several leading companies working on vaccines have received funding to begin ramping up production even before they know for certain their candidate will work, and be approved. That process is underway now to try and shorten the gap between an approval and distribution. But how long that will take remains one of many unknowns.

What’s the plan?

The plan discussed would give first access to high-risk workers in healthcare facilities and first responders. After that, the distribution would then roll out in phases, starting with people whose other health conditions put them at “significantly higher risk” of contracting coronavirus, and older adults living in congregate settings – most commonly nursing home residents who have accounted for roughly 40% of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Each phase adds more groups, such as teachers, the elderly, people with medical risks, the homeless and prison inmates in Stage 2, and children and other essential workers in Stage 3. Everyone else would follow after that – presuming vaccine companies have been able to expand production to cover the entire U.S. population.

“We looked at issues of ensuring maximal benefit, promoting common good, saving the greatest number of lives possible,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, who co-chaired the committee of scientists, including experts in epidemiology, vaccine research, public health, ethics and law. Their final proposal, expected early this fall, will be handed over to the CDC, the agency tasked with rolling out a vaccine.

Ultimately, the decision will fall to the CDC to set priorities. In response to questions, a CDC spokesperson said the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices “has not yet made…

Matthew Mosk

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