Not all seniors will get Covid vaccine rapidly. Most must wait

Ergin Yalcin | E + | Getty Images

For the nation’s oldest seeking protection from Covid, the waiting game has begun.

Shipments of 2.9 million doses of the first U.S.-approved coronavirus vaccine began on Sunday and resulted in hundreds of locations across the country. Because initial supply is limited – the total US population is around 330 million – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that priority be given to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities during this first phase.

In other words, without the elderly in these facilities – including nursing homes and the like – the 65-year-old and the elderly may need to be patient.

“Seniors might start vaccinating in the first quarter, but it really will depend on how quickly the supply increases,” said Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in people aged 16 and over. One from Moderna could also get similar approval from the FDA in the coming days.

“If the Moderna vaccine gets approved this week, it will help because there will be more coverage,” Kates said.

According to a CDC advisory committee, demand is expected to outstrip supply in the first few months of the vaccination program. Although the vaccine will be phased out and administered to prioritize the most vulnerable populations, it is not certain how long it will take to cover each of these audiences.

According to a new Kaiser study, 19.7 million adults work in the healthcare sector, of which 15.5 million have direct patient contact. Around 2 million people live between nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Introducing the Pfizer vaccine is a complex federal and state undertaking. Not only does the vaccine need to be stored at subzero temperatures and handled according to strict protocols, but it also requires two doses three weeks apart.

While Medicare – which insures a large proportion of the 65-year-olds and the elderly – recently changed its rules to fully cover a fast-moving vaccine, individual states are tasked with actually distributing the doses and identifying priority populations to be vaccinated. All states generally follow federal recommendations for their initial audiences, Kates said, adding that some have an expanded list of priorities.

What [the advisory committee] In reflection it has been said that they are very likely to recommend that key workers come next, then seniors and those with existing medical conditions.

Jennifer Kates

Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation

It is uncertain which groups the CDC will recommend for prioritization after the first round of reporting or whether an earlier target of 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year will be achieved. However, the Agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last month suggested that the next priority population should be people 65 and over, critical workers, and those with underlying medical conditions who are at higher risk for Covid complications.

“What [the advisory committee] has said on reflection that they are very likely to recommend that key workers come next, and then seniors and those with existing medical conditions, “Kates said.

If these three populations focused on health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, an estimated 87 million vital workers, more than 53 million people aged 65 and over, and 100 million would be targeted with high-risk medical conditions, Kaiser finds in new research.

Availability also depends on how many doses each state is receiving, which is currently based on each state’s adult population. However, there aren’t the same proportions of audiences across all states – for example, some have more health care workers while others have more nursing home residents, Kates said.

“It’s possible that some of the initial assignments might not match,” Kates said.

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, the pandemic has killed at least 299,191 people in the United States, with the number of cases over 16.25 million. These numbers account for around 19% of the 1.6 million Covid deaths worldwide and 23% of the 72.3 million cases worldwide.

CDC data shows that of approximately 262,000 Covid deaths as of December 9, more than 209,000 people were 65 years of age or older. Overall, residents of long-term care facilities have caused about 40% of deaths in the United States from Covid to date, according to the CDC.

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