When the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in the United States, the choice of who should receive them was fairly obvious -- and widely accepted. They would go to healthcare workers, who are highly exposed to the coronavirus and keep the medical system functioning, and people living in nursing homes, who have made up a third of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide. Since then, the choices have gotten tougher: Teachers, farmworkers, senior citizens and dozens of other groups have made compelling arguments for why they should go next. For leaders making those decisions, it is effectively a zero-sum game: giving priority to some means fewer doses for others. Though the nation's vaccine availability will probably improve substantially in the coming months, officials at this moment are wading through what could be the most contentious phase of the rollout -- a collision of relentless demand and constrained supply.
With COVID-19 vaccines still in short supply in California, there is growing debate about who should be given the next priority for the shots and how soon the state can ramp up efforts to better meet surging demand. The state has launched a high-level task force to sort out logistics for how residents with disabilities and underlying health conditions will be prioritized next, state officials announced at Wednesday's vaccine advisory committee meeting. The group spent significant time discussing how those residents will be factored into the state's priority guidance -- a recommendation that could come as early as Friday. "We are taking this incredibly seriously. This is the next priority group," state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said.
Gov Gavin Newsom said California is facing its'most intense and urgent' stage of the pandemic on Tuesday California has ordered 5,000 more body bags and put dozens of mobile morgues on standby as nationwide hospitals continue to reach record highs and new daily fatalities surge to more than 3,000. Governor Gavin Newsom warned of the possibility of thousands of deaths in the coming weeks at a press conference on Tuesday as California faces its'most intense' coronavirus surge yet. The most populous state in the country has reported more than 32,300 new COVID-19 cases and a seven-day average positivity rate of 10.6 percent - the highest since the start of the pandemic. The state's seven-day average for daily deaths has risen almost three-fold in the last month to 163 this week. The 142 new fatalities reported Tuesday raised the death toll to 21,188, out of more than 1.6 million total cases. Newsom said he has activated California's coroner mutual aid and mass fatality program to coordinate the response of coroners and morgues as the death rate continues to climb. The state recently distributed 5,000 additional body bags to Los Angeles, San Diego and Inyo counties, he said, while 60 53-foot refrigerated storage units were put on standby in counties and at hospitals where morgues could soon reach capacity. New Mexico and Colorado have also deployed refrigerated trucks to hard-hit counties in anticipation of any spikes in deaths. Nationwide, there were 3,019 new deaths reported on Tuesday.
This story was originally published by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. The thousands of workers who pick, pack, and process our food have become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in many states. But they still face obstacles to actually getting the vaccine, as companies sort out their vaccination policies and advocates struggle to secure enough doses for a workforce that ranks among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Labor organizations and the food industry spent months pushing for agricultural and food processing workers to be in early distribution phases of the vaccine. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that agricultural workers be vaccinated in Phase 1b, and many states have followed suit.
With COVID-19 vaccine doses still in short supply, the decision of how to prioritize immunizations is becoming an increasingly fraught matter as officials must choose among many groups, each with its own desperate need to get to the front of the line. Focusing on older people, the disabled and others at higher risk of becoming critically ill from the coronavirus has the potential to save many lives. Reserving doses for essential workers would also help slow the spread of COVID-19. And moving educators to a higher position could make teachers willing to return to campus for in-person instruction. "What's so difficult right now is that we even have to view this as competing priorities. There's all this tension on shifting priorities in groups, and all of this is based on a limited supply," said Dr. Eve Glazier, president of the Faculty Practice Group at UCLA Health.