Indian-American, Dr. Celine Gounder on Biden’s plan for prioritizing vaccine distribution


When the COVID-19 vaccines are finally out, prioritization of who will get when is one of the most challenging tasks for global leaders, scientists, and decision-makers.

To play it safe and sensitive, US President-elect Joe Biden has decided to let health experts make that choice on who will get a vaccine in the country first.

Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of his coronavirus advisory board, revealed the president-elect’s decision recently.

When the vaccine is finally out, and immediately after it is authorized by the US FDA, the demand for it will be on a high while the initial supply of the doses is expected to below. In that case, it is wise for healthcare experts to make choices which members of the country should receive it first.

“Other than health care workers, others who will be first in line to get it will be people who do have chronic underlying medical conditions who are older, as well as communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic,” Gounder told CNN on Friday.

The country’s death count since the pandemic’s start is now more than 264,000. And nearly another 60,000 people could lose their lives over the next three weeks, according to an ensemble forecast published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week.

“Now among those groups is where it starts to get a little bit more contentious,” she added. “How do you prioritize between the 85-year-old woman in a nursing home, versus the 65-year-old African American — especially when that 65-year-old may be as just as high-risk of significant disease?”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) will recommend groups to receive the vaccine first.

“That’s where it gets a bit more political and frankly, this is where the President-elect is leaving it to the public health experts and scientists to figure out how best to allocate the limited supply first,” said Gounder, who was named by Biden earlier this month to his coronavirus advisory board.

The ACIP called an emergency meeting for December 1, where they will vote on the very first group to get a vaccine.

“Because we know that the vaccine will be available in very limited doses, even if they prioritize health care workers and older people in their population, it’s going to be really important to be a little more granular,” said Rick Bright, another member of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board.

“They’re going to discuss that granularity in health care workers. If I only have so many doses available, how do I prioritize those health care workers first and make those recommendations to the states?” he said.

Typically, the ACIP meets after a vaccine is authorized by the FDA to make recommendations, but they are working proactively in anticipation of a quick decision by the FDA, the report said.

“We foresee imminent authorization if this vaccine is shown to be effective and safe in the near future and we want to be at the point where we are providing appropriate guidance to the states and jurisdictions for the use of these vaccines,” ACIP chair Dr. Jose Romero told CNN.