Should journalists be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? It’s complicated

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A COVID-19 vaccine could start being injected into the first arms of Americans most vulnerable to the virus as early as Thursday, pending likely approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And debate around who gets in line where in getting this vaccine has begun. 

One question raised: Should journalists be near the front of the line?

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Phase 1A to get the vaccine will obviously be “hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient home health care, pharmacies, emergency medical personnel, and public health workers.” 

Phase 1B will be “essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions, and adults 65 years and older. Essential workers include people who work in food and agriculture, food service, transportation, education, energy, police, firefighters, manufacturing, IT, communication, water and wastewater.”

One group, the National Press Photographers Association, believes journalists should be part of Phase 1B, because journalists do critical work and have “direct contact with the public on a regular basis.”

Should journalists be placed in the same category as teachers, police, firemen, medical assistants, train conductors and staff, airline pilots and staff, and those who work in correctional facilities? 

How about those in the medical field who aren’t doctors or nurses but serve as radiology technicians, laboratory technicians, phlebotomists, secretaries, janitorial/housekeeping staff, transporters, medics or EMTs?

The sentiments among 15 journalists I contacted was mixed. A majority said they would take a vaccine not as an essential employee but rather as a member of the general population when their place in line came. Others said they believed they were essential employees due to their role in informing and educating the public, particularly on the pandemic and government’s role in combatting it.

A journalist who has been on the front lines at various rallies and protests, and who contracted COVID-19 in the process, believes some in-the-field journalists above a certain age should receive the vaccine but only after health care workers and seniors in nursing homes. This journalist stressed the in-the-field criterion in underscoring that pundits in a studio should not qualify as essential.

Another journalist in the thick of protests and riots since the summer shared that he would take his chances with COVID given his good health and relatively young age before getting in line as an essential worker. Another veteran mentioned those who serve as sole breadwinners in their households and thus need to work at a non-essential business that regularly exposes them to other people. 

“Are they more essential than me?” she asked before acknowledging how complicated the process is from a priority perspective.  

Overall, nine of the journalists indicated that they wouldn’t feel right about getting the vaccine before those they see as truly essential workers or those in great need.

That perspective is understandable. For starters, those under age 60 have an enormously high chance of survival after contracting COVID-19 if they don’t have any pre-existing conditions. Most reporters in the field fall into that category and therefore may not feel a sense of urgency to get inoculated. 

Then there’s mistrust in the vaccine, or at least in being among the first to receive it. According to a November Pew Research poll, 60 percent of those asked said they “definitely or probably” would take the coronavirus vaccine, a 9-point jump from 51 percent in September, while 39 percent said they definitely or probably would not take it. Of that 39 percent, half said they could change their minds if more information becomes available. 

All of that said, 39 percent of the population is still 129 million people, or roughly twice the population of France. 

As we near the end of this horrific year, we place our hopes in the tremendous strides in therapeutics and in a vaccine almost no one believed would be ready to distribute before the 2021 ball dropped in an empty Times Square.  

Are journalists essential workers? Should they be next in line for a vaccine after health care workers and the elderly? 

As one reporter said, it’s like everything else in 2020 — a complicated matter with no definitive right or wrong answer. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine Food and Drug Administration Vaccination Vaccines

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