State governors will have to decide who will be inoculated first, placing priority on the most vulnerable, once COVID-19 vaccines are approved and delivered, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Friday.
Meanwhile, the American people will need to continue taking precautions against the virus as the country forges ahead with the monthslong process of vaccination, Birx, a native of Newtown Square in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, said in an interview with NBC10’s Lauren Mayk.
Under the current guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first in line to get the vaccine will be front-line health care workers and people with critical health needs, including those in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. After them will be essential workers like firefighters, police officers, teachers and others.
“Each governor is going to have to look at equity – who’s really in need – and make the decision about who is most vulnerable to hospitalizations and bad outcomes and immunize them first,” Birx said.
However, Paul Mango, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, earlier told NBC10 that local leaders don’t necessarily have to follow the CDC’s guidelines to the letter, meaning they will have some leeway in deciding who is at the front of the proverbial line.
Pfizer produced the leading vaccine candidate in the U.S., with the Food and Drug Administration on Friday approving it for emergency use. Moderna and AstraZeneca have developed their own vaccine, and those could be approved in the coming weeks, as well.
Delivering injections for hundreds of millions of people will be a laborious process that will extend well into 2021, but Birx estimated some 30 million will be able to get immunized in the next few weeks if both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines receive emergency approval. By next summer, it’s possible that “most” Americans over age 25 will be immunized, she added.
Though some wonder whether the coronavirus vaccine should be mandatory, Birx said she and most governors with whom she has spoken believe people will get the required shots voluntarily.
“I already see [public perception] shifting as people see how safe it is, how effective it is,” she said.
In the meantime, she warned that the public must remain vigilant. While she praised Philadelphia and Mayor Jim Kenney for providing “innovative options” for people to socialize outside, she noted that much of the viral spread is happening indoors with people not wearing masks.
For that reason, she reiterated that people should try to avoid holiday gatherings that could trigger more case spikes. States are already seeing a dramatic rise in infections, but the full extent of viral spread due to November’s Thanksgiving travel is still unraveling and may only be fully felt by next week, she said.
“We’re already seeing increasing hospitalizations, but over this next week we expect to really see the impact of Thanksgiving,” Birx said.
Those who still plan to travel through the remaining holiday season should wear masks, even when indoors and especially when visiting vulnerable family or friends, she cautioned.
“When you talk about family gatherings, we all want to make sure that our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles are here next Christmas,” Birx said. “And so, until they get immunized, we really need to continue to protect them and ensure that they are with us next Christmas.”