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CDC Federal Advisory Committee Recommends Giving Priority for COVID-19 Vaccines to Healthcare Workers and Long-Term Care Facility Residents in Wake of Deadline for States to Submit Their Vaccination Plans This Friday

Written by: Alex Battey, Esq. and Paige Nettles, Esq.

On Tuesday, December 1, 2020 the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevision on the implementation of COVID-19 vaccinations, voted 13-1 in favor of giving priority to healthcare workers and long-term care facilities for the vaccine.  If the panel’s recommendations to the CDC are followed, health workers and residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities would be slated as the first to receive the initial limited doses of COVID-19 vaccines once the vaccinations are federally approved.

However, the panel’s 13-1 recommendation is not the final say, as states will still be allowed leeway in making their own distribution decisions. Following months of deliberation and debate, the panel of independent scientific experts described its recommendation as an interim recommendation that could change as more is learned about the vaccines’ effectiveness, the impact the vaccines have on different age groups, and the manufacturers’ ability to meet demands for vaccines.  Healthcare workers have commonly been identified as having a high risk of COVID-19 exposure, and long-term care facilities residents have also been identified given the impact the virus has had on the population and the higher risk of fatality for those over the age of 65.

At this time, the committee’s recommendation has been sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who is expected to decide this week whether to accept the committee’s recommendation as the CDC’s formal guidance to states.  The Washington Post is reporting that the CDC has adopted the ACIP’s recommendations as the agency’s official guidance to states. However, even as the agency’s formal recommendations, states will not necessarily have to follow these guidelines, as they will have significant leeway in determining their own protocols when submitting their plans to the federal government.  The deadline for states to submit their vaccine distribution plans to the federal government is this Friday, December 5, 2020.

Nonetheless, the panel’s recommendation signals that initial priority for vaccine distribution by states may be given to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents.  In the event healthcare workers and long-term care facilities residents are identified as the first to receive vaccinations, those facilities will likely need to determine their own priority schedules for vaccination given the limited amount of vaccines likely to be initially available.

We will provide updates as the CDC and ACIP forth any additional guidelines or recommendations and as states submit their proposed vaccination plans this week.