DANVERS, MA — With Friday's announcement that Cambridge-based Moderna's coronavirus vaccine received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the state can move forward with its plan to begin vaccinating staff and residents of nursing homes starting Dec. 28.
Yet, while most know and understand why front line health care workers and those in nursing homes — which have been hit harder than any other setting in coronavirus cases resulting in death — are at the front of the vaccination line, there are bound to be more questions about the priority list as more vaccines become available and the state moves further down its priority list.
Next after nursing homes are police, fire and emergency responders not classified as front line health workers.
But before the state gets to phase two planned to begin in February — which includes those with multiple health factors that make them high risk for developing severe symptoms, teachers and school staff, essential workers in the grocery and food industries and eventually all those over age 65 — the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group has prioritized prison workers and inmates, as well as those who live and work at homeless shelters in late phase one.
Prisons and shelters come before home health workers and non-frontline health care workers at the end of phase one.
While most states have prioritized those groups over the general population, according to a New York Time report on Friday, no other state has put them as close to the front of the line as the Bay State.
"Congregate care settings where individuals are close together we know are a documented risk factor not just for individuals but for a large group to be exposed to COVID and becoming ill at the same time," Dr. Paul Biddinger, chair of the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group and chief of disaster medicine at MGH, said at the Dec. 9 news conference announcing the state's vaccination protocols. "From an equity perspective where people are together and at risk in the same setting, we felt it was really important to prioritize that group."
When questioned why an inmate might be more deserving of a vaccination than, perhaps, a teacher or public health worker, Biddinger said it was a matter of determining relative risk over choosing a particular group or profession based on merit.
"The Advisory Group felt very strongly about equity," Biddinger said. "All the residents of the Commonwealth deserve equal access to vaccine and in terms of the first wave, which is the farthest in the future I can speak of right now."
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