Recently, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison said the government would offer free doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the entire 25 million population, putting into focus a rather tricky issue nations are grappling with across the world: who should get the vaccine first — and why.
Most nations, including India, are unanimous on the first recipients — frontline health workers directly interacting with Covid-19 patients. However, there is no straight answer to which population group comes next. For this purpose, several countries have set up expert committees to decide on the next tier of distribution as initially only a limited amount of vaccines will be available before mass production.
In June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had come out with a tentative plan of “strategic allocation” of the coronavirus vaccine. It said healthcare workers should be given priority first followed by adults older than 65 and those having comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, or chronic respiratory disease.
Who will get the Covid-19 vaccine first? What countries are planning:
The government has set up a National Expert Group to deliberate on principles for prioritisation of population groups for vaccination among other things. The Indian Council of Medical Research has said the vaccine should be made available to the health workers first.
A similar view was echoed by Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey. “Our scientists are working very hard on it. Three vaccines against COVID-19 are in various stages of testing. And, if we do succeed in getting a vaccine, our COVID warriors will be the first one to receive the dose,” Choubey said.
Recently, on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the entire roadmap of vaccine production and delivery to the public in the shortest time was ready.
The United States
A subgroup of the Centre for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has suggested a tiered system on prioritising vaccine recipients, according to a report in journal Science. The top tier includes 12 million “highest risk” healthcare professionals and national security workers.
The committee suggested that tiers two and three should include 110 million people who work in other essential jobs (meat packers, grocery store owners), or are in these groups: aged 65 and older, living in long-term care facilities, or those with medical conditions known to increase the risk of developing Covid-19. The final two tiers include the “general population” of 206 million people.
According to an NYT report, agency officials and the advisers are also considering inoculating Black and Latino people ahead of others in the population. This is so because Black and Latino people have contracted Covid-19 at three times the rate of whites, and have died nearly twice as frequently. Moreover, many of them have jobs that keep them from working at home and live in cramped homes that increase their risk of exposure.
Some experts have also suggested putting pregnant women high on the list. “Pregnant women, normally the last to receive a new vaccine, given the possibility of harm to a fetus, may have an increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19,” Science quoted Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Emory University, as saying.
CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report has found that Covid-19 positive pregnant women had 1.5 times higher risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit and a 1.7 times higher risk of requiring mechanical ventilation.
Russia, which has become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine, said the first batch of shots would be received primarily by doctors on a voluntary basis followed by teachers.
“We will begin the stage-by-stage civilian use of the vaccine. First and foremost, we would like to offer vaccination to those who come into contact with infected persons at work. These are medical workers. And also those who are responsible for children’s health – teachers,” Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told TASS news agency.
European Union member states are likely to individually determine which group will have first access to a vaccine once it becomes available. According to Euronews, the first people who will be vaccinated are those in high-risk jobs, such as doctors and nurses. Second in line are likely those most vulnerable to infection due to their pre-conditions or age.
In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation has recommended prioritising people with health conditions that are risk factors for Covid-19, such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease, followed by those whose jobs make them more susceptible, such as emergency and healthcare workers. Third on the list are those living in long-term care or crowded or remote locations and people with tobacco, alcohol or drug use disorders.
While announcing a deal with pharma major AstraZeneca, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that all Australians would get vaccinated for free and went on to suggest that he would also like it to become mandatory for everyone in his country. “I would expect it to be as mandatory as you can possibly make,” Morrison was reported as having said in a radio programme.
But within hours, he had to alter his position and clarify, in another radio programme, that all he meant to say was that he would like to “encourage” everyone to take the coronavirus vaccine. “We can’t hold someone down and make them take it,” he said.
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