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Who will get the COVID-19 vaccine first? Doctors explain how it will be distributed

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The race for a COVID-19 vaccine continues as medical experts get closer by the day.

The federal government is projecting an effective vaccine could be ready by Jan. 2021 and when we get there the main question will be: who will get priority?

Over five million people in America have tested positive for COVID-19. Medical experts are seeing only one solution to get to the other side.

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“We are not going to get there without a vaccine,” Dr. Chris Beyrer, MD,MPH, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Once there is an effective vaccine the next question will be ‘who will be prioritized?’

“The highest priority group, in the beginning, are going to be healthcare workers and people who have direct COVID exposure who really need to be protected. There will be a prioritization for people who have underlying conditions that might make them vulnerable,” said Dr. Beyrer.

Dr. Beyrer also suggests a good starting point for answers is to look at distribution patterns from other vaccines. He is the senior scientific liaison for the COVID-19 vaccine prevention network, a federal advisory panel providing recommendations to the CDC.

“There’s a long way to go before distribution and access issues, but it is important to be intentional and to think about those and to have a plan. That plan is very much underdeveloped,” said Dr. Beyrer.

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While it’s early to answer this question, throughout the country medical professionals are advising the federal government on the route they should take.

Here’s our first hint. During the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, medical professionals suggested a five tier plan that was used for the influenza vaccine.

Tier 1: Critical health care, law enforcement, public health professionals

Tier 2: Groups in the homeland & national security category

Tier 3: Essential workers

Tier 4: High-risk adults those 65 years old and older and (19-64 years old with underlying medical conditions)

Tier 5: General population

Another hint comes from The World Health Organization who laid out a Global allocation framework giving priority to:

1. 50 million healthcare system workers

2. 650 million adults 65 years old and older

3. 1.15 billion other high-risk adults

VIDEO: Here’s how Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax compare in race for COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado is leading the COVID-19 clinical efforts at Stanford Medicine and also making recommendations to the CDC. She believes distribution could be impacted by the number of COVID-19 vaccines developed.

Luz Pena: “Will those groups who are part of the vaccine trial be the most likely to get the vaccine first?”

Dr. Maldonado: “We are hoping that’s the case. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the end. This is a long process. At least for studying the vaccine what I understand is that the age groupings are doing well. But they are not doing as well as they like with the racial and ethnic minorities but the vaccine trials have just started.”

Whenever a COVID-19 vaccine does roll out, all experts agree on one thing: there won’t be enough to go around at first.

“Depending on which ones come out, if there are more than one at the same time. There might be more numbers of doses available. We are talking on the order of maybe a few doses in the beginning. A few million doses at the beginning. Ideally, you would want to have enough for everyone in the country,” said Dr. Maldonado.

VIDEO: Californians explain why they won’t be taking a COVID-19 vaccine when it comes out

In May, President Donald Trump announced ‘Operation Warp Speed’ A federal program aiming to “deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021.” Deputy Director Dr. Julie Ledgerwood gave some insight as to who they are targeting in the vaccine trials during a meeting with CDC’s medical advisors.

“As these trials are seeking to enroll minority populations who are at risk of COVID. The OWS, the NIH and DOD, he CoVPN teams the vaccine are implementing really impressive recruitment to reach these populations,” said Dr. Ledgerwood.

A population that according to Jon Jacobo with the Latino Taskforce is apprehensive about a vaccine.

VIDEO: Which countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first?

“When we came out the first time with testing with UCSF back in April, we heard people say ‘we don’t want to get tested. We are going to be the potential guinea pigs for vaccines’ we assured them that it’s not the case and is still not the case. We are not doing that. It’s up to individuals to make the choice that seems right and feels right for them,” said Jacobo.

Latinos, blacks and Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by this virus. Making race also a main deciding factor as to who might get the vaccine first, according to Dr. Maldonado, “When it comes time to distribute the vaccine everybody’s been very clear that they want this racial-ethnic distribution to be taken into strong consideration. We are hoping that will happen.”

The World Health Organization announced it will have a finalized allocation plan of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this month with or without a vaccine.

Take a look at all of ABC7’s Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

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