Story at a glance

  • The WHO is currently developing guidelines to structure future COVID-19 vaccine distribution among more vulnerable groups, like health care and frontline workers.
  • U.S. data from August shows Americans broadly support this plan.

To ensure more vulnerable demographics, such as the elderly, get the first available doses younger people in good health may not be immediately eligible for a future COVID-19 vaccine. 

Chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) Soumya Swaminathan said Wednesday that the groups most likely to receive the first round of vaccinations include frontline workers, health care professionals and older people.

The prioritization tiers will be developed by WHO experts and its advisory groups, CNBC reports


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“People tend to think that on the first of January or the first of April, I’m going to get the vaccine, and then things will be back to normal,” Swaminathan said. “It’s not going to work like that.”

Sticking to the timeline touted by other public health professionals, she anticipates that one of the vaccine candidates in clinical trials will emerge as a safe and effective treatment by early 2021, but will initially only be available in limited quantities. 

Survey results from late August indicate that most Americans feel that at-risk people like health care workers and immunocompromised people should receive the first available doses of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Some of the leading vaccine candidates are being developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Novavax as part of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed program.

As frontrunners become approved for mass distribution, the WHO and its supporting groups will release guidance on how to distribute each vaccine. 

“Most people agree that it’s starting with healthcare workers and frontline workers, but even then you need to define which of them are at highest risk and then the elderly and so on,” Swaminathan reportedly said. “There will be a lot of guidance coming out, but I think an average person, a healthy young person might have to wait until 2022 to get a vaccine.”

This timeline conflicts with the U.S. agenda to ready a vaccine for mass availability by spring 2021, with President Trump stating all Americans will have a vaccine by April 2021.  

Unlike other countries, however, the U.S. has also secured several million doses of potential vaccines from several candidates, opting out of the WHO’s COVAX vaccine sharing program. 

This news comes as cases surge in the U.S. and Europe, and several vaccine or treatment candidates, namely by AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson, have paused clinical trials to address safety concerns — a normal part of clinical medicinal research.  


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Published on Oct 14, 2020