CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Governors and other state officials must decide Friday who will get the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that’s expected to become available later this month.
Friday marks the deadline for states to submit requests for doses of the Pfizer vaccine. In doing so, they must specify where the limited amount of shots should be shipped, and many appear to be following nonbinding guidelines adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week that put health care workers and nursing home patients at the front of the line.
The deadline nears as the U.S. recorded 3,100 deaths from the virus in a single day, surpassing the record set last spring. Meanwhile, the country’s total cases have exceeded 14 million, the highest in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Pfizer told Reuters this week that it had to slash its vaccine production goal for this year due to supply chain challenges. Pfizer had initially aimed to produce 100 million doses in 2020, but in recent weeks, the company cut that amount down by half. Since Pfizer’s vaccine relies on a two dose regimen, 50 million doses is enough to inoculate 25 million people.
A company spokeswoman told Reuters that the “scale-up of the raw material supply chain took longer than expected.” But she said modifications to their production line are complete and doses are now being made at a rapid pace.
U.S. government officials have said they expect their first allocation of the vaccine to include 6.4 million doses, with more to follow.
In considering the order in which the shots will be dispensed, state officials across the U.S. are facing a multitude of decisions.
In Colorado, a draft plan that’s under revision puts ski resort workers who share close quarters in the second phase of vaccine distribution. The decision signals recognition of the $6 billion industry’s role in the state’s econony.
Nevada initially placed nursing home patients in the third phase, behind police officers, teachers, airport operators and retail workers. But state officials said Wednesday that they would revise their plan to conform to the CDC guidance.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said health care and long-term care facility workers are the top priority, but the state was still refining who would be included in the next phase. A draft vaccination plan submitted to the CDC in October listed poultry workers along with other essential workers such as teachers, law enforcement and correctional employees in the so-called 1B category.
Poultry is a major part of Arkansas’ economy, and nearly 6,000 poultry workers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to the state Health Department.
“We know these workers have been the brunt of large outbreaks not only in our state, but also in other states,” said Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary and chairman of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
In Minnesota, firefighter groups have asked the governor to be placed in the first group, while Illinois’ plan puts first responders alongside health care workers as highest priority to get the shots.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he wants teachers to get priority so schools can stay open. Two California lawmakers asked for that, too, saying distance learning is harming students’ education.
“Our state’s children cannot afford to wait,” wrote Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. “This is too important to overlook or sweep aside.”
The Utah Department of Health placed the state’s first order for its vaccine allotment Thursday.
Utah officials said frontline health care workers will take top priority, with the five hospitals treating the most COVID-19 patients getting the first doses. State health officials said that additional doses likely will be available in February and March for more hospital workers, and essential workers — including police officers, firefighters and teachers — also will be prioritized.
Texas is putting hospital staff, nursing home workers and paramedics at the top of the list, followed by outpatient medical employees, pharmacists, funeral home workers and school nurses. Nursing home patients did not make the cut for the first phase.
Advocates strongly expressed frustration over the way some states are putting medical workers ahead of nursing home residents.
“It would be unconscionable not to give top priority to protect the population that is more susceptible or vulnerable to the virus,” said John Sauer, head of LeadingAge in Wisconsin, a group representing nonprofit long-term care facilities.
He added: “I can’t think of a more raw form of ageism than that. The population that is most vulnerable to succumbing to this virus is not going to be given priority? I mean, that just says we don’t value the lives of people in long-term care.”
Iowa, which expects to get 172,000 doses over the next month, will make them available first to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, while an advisory council will recommend who comes next to “minimize health inequities based on poverty, geography” and other factors, state Human Services Director Kelly Garcia said.
For example, prison inmates and residents of state institutions for the disabled aren’t in the first round but will be put ahead of others, she said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. All reporting by Sam Metz and Ryan J. Foley of the Associated Press, and Carl O’Donnell of Reuters.