Austin, TX – Texas was the first of multiple states to break from the recommendations of an independent advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD) charged with making guidelines for Covid vaccine distribution.
CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) prioritized healthcare workers and nursing home residents for the first available round of vaccines being released into the public arena and most states followed that advice, CNBC reported.
Massachusetts opted to also include its first responders, including correctional officers, and prisoners in the first round.
But when the panel released guidance for the second round of shots – known as the phase 1b group – on Sunday, there was a bigger split, CNBC reported.
CDC guidance said the recipients in the second phase should be people over 74 years of age and 30 million essential workers like police, teachers, and agricultural workers.
Texas was the first to announce its own plan on Monday, CNBC reported.
The state decided to prioritize everyone 65 years of age or older ahead of essential workers.
“The focus on people who are age 65 and older or who have comorbidities will protect the most vulnerable populations,” Imelda Garcia, chair of Texas’ expert vaccine allocation panel and associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services at the Texas Department of State Health Services, said. “This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from Covid-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work.”
On Tuesday, Florida followed suit and Governor Ron DeSantis announced that everyone 70 years of age and older would be vaccinated ahead of essential workers, CNBC reported.
“The vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is going to be greatest, and that is in our elderly population,” DeSantis told reporters. “We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population.”
ACIP’s guidance is just that – a recommendation of what states should do but not a requirement that they do it, CNBC reported.
Vanderbilt University epidemiologist Dr. Bill Schaffner said he expected more states to break with CDC guidance in the coming weeks.
Schaffner said states have been working on their distribution plans for months already, and while the advice from the ACIP may be valuable, it arrived too late for many, CNBC reported.
“The ACIP recommendation has been earnest, careful, thoughtful, egalitarian, sincere, honest, all those good things, and a little late in coming,” Schaffner said. “I was pretty sure that in our diverse country with 50 states and I can never remember how many territories, there would be some, shall we say, harmonics — variations on a theme.”
ACIP members noted in their Dec. 20 recommendations that states should adjust the guidance based on their local situations, CNBC reported.
But Schaffner said Texas’ plan was a notable deviation and not just a different interpretation of the CDC recommendations.
“It’s not really about right or wrong, but it is about state values,” Dr. Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNBC.
Kates is closely monitoring state vaccine prioritization plans as they are released to the public.
“Texas has clearly come down on the side of, ‘we’re going to focus on those who are at greatest risk of illness and death,’” she said. “Basically, it creates a different order for the line, and people are going to have different access, relatively speaking, based on where they live.”
Schaffner said that the bigger challenge is actually distributing the vaccines to the targeted members of the public, CNBC reported.
So far, 4.6 million vaccine doses have been given to states but only one million of them were administered in the first 10 days they were available, Business Insider reported.
Schaffner said distributing the vaccine to vulnerable populations takes more resources and more money than local health departments have at their disposal, CNBC reported.