Conference Coverage

ACIP plans priority groups in advance of COVID-19 vaccine


Early plans for prioritizing vaccination when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available include placing critical health care workers in the first tier, according to Sarah Mbaeyi, MD, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

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A COVID-19 vaccine work group is developing strategies and identifying priority groups for vaccination to help inform discussions about the use of COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Mbaeyi said at a virtual meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“Preparing for vaccination during a pandemic has long been a priority of the CDC and the U.S. government,” said Dr. Mbaeyi. The work group is building on a tiered approach to vaccination that was updated in 2018 after the H1N1 flu pandemic, with occupational and high-risk populations placed in the highest-priority groups, Dr. Mbaeyi said.

There are important differences between COVID-19 and influenza, Dr. Mbaeyi said. “Vaccine prioritization is challenging due to incomplete information on COVID-19 epidemiology and vaccines, including characteristics, timing, and number of doses.”

However, guidance for vaccine prioritization developed after the H1N1 outbreak in 2018 can be adapted for COVID-19.

To help inform ACIP deliberations, the work group reviewed the epidemiology of COVID-19. A large proportion of the population remains susceptible, and prioritizations should be based on data to date and continually refined, she said.

The work group defined the objectives of the COVID-19 vaccine program as follows: “Ensure safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines; reduce transmission, morbidity, and mortality in the population; help minimize disruption to society and economy, including maintaining health care capacity; and ensure equity in vaccine allocation and distribution.”

Based on current information, the work group has proposed that vaccine priority be given to health care personnel, essential workers, adults aged 65 years and older, long-term care facility residents, and persons with high-risk medical conditions.

Among these groups “a subset of critical health care and other workers should receive initial doses,” Dr. Mbaeyi said.

However, vaccines will not be administered until safety and efficacy have been demonstrated, she emphasized. The timing and number of vaccine doses are unknown, and subprioritization may be needed, assuming the vaccine becomes available in incremental quantities over several months.

Next steps for the work group are refinement of priority groups based on ACIP feedback, and assignment of tiers to other groups such as children, pregnant women, and racial/ethnic groups at high risk, Dr. Mbaeyi said.

The goal of the work group is to have a prioritization framework for COVID-19 vaccination to present at the next ACIP meeting.

Committee member Helen Keipp Talbot, MD, of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., emphasized that “one of the things we need to know is how is the virus [is] transmitted and who is transmitting,” and that this information will be key to developing strategies for vaccination.

Sarah E. Oliver, MD, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, responded that household transmission studies are in progress that will help inform the prioritization process.

Dr. Mbaeyi and Dr. Oliver had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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