CDC advisers recommend who should get COVID-19 vaccine first

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decided 13 to 1 to recommend that health care workers and long-term care facility residents be the first group to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It really is exactly what we expected to see,” Swedish Medical Group and Ambulatory Care Network’s Chief Nursing Officer Donna Jensen said.

“We know that our folks over the age of 65 are experiencing, when they get COVID, much more serious illness,” she said, “and they are pretty significantly higher at risk of death of COVID infection.”

Getting them vaccinated, Jensen pointed out, would help prevent them from a COVID-19 infection and keep them out of ICU during the current surge. The more people they keep out of intensive care, the better.

“If we get to a place where hospitals are so full that we’re running out of beds and on top of that we run out of doctors and nurses-- and other associated health care staff-- then we start to see mortality go up even higher,” Amanda Morse, clinical instructor in health services at the University of Washington Bothell, said.

The CDC said there are 21 million health care workers across the U.S., including at hospitals, clinics, home health care, pharmacies, and emergency medical services--all crucial during this surge.

The committee said hospitals would likely want to stagger some vaccinations to avoid all workers on certain units being out in case of fatigue or other side effects.

It could happen soon. Washington state expects to receive its first shipment of about 62,400 doses by mid-December.

The CDC also says there are 3 million residents at long-term care facilities, including skilled nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities.

That part is what prompted the sole no from advisory group member Dr. Helen Talbot.

“We enter this realm of, ‘We hope it works, and we hope it’s safe,’” she said. “That concerns me on many levels… I do not feel like our safety network for our long-term care facilities is strong enough yet.”

The group also discussed several ways of keeping an eye on how vaccinated people are doing.

One is a new system called V-SAFE that people can sign up for. They get text messages or emails they can respond to. Any important events, like major side effects, prompt a phone call and follow up.

Another system is called VAERS, which stands for the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Jensen said that’s familiar to health care providers like Swedish Medical.

“The VAERS system really is the system that all of us use already,” she said, “so all vaccinations-- if there’s some kind of side effect that a patient experiences, we certainly want to report that up through the VAERS system.”

Emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine could come as soon as Dec. 10.