Truck drivers likely will not be in the next wave of people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, although that will vary by state.
A panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Dec. 20 to recommend that people age 75 and older be in the next wave, which it designated 1B, as well as 30 million “frontline essential workers,” such as emergency responders, teachers and grocery store employees. However, other “essential workers,” including transportation workers such as truck drivers, will have to wait for Phase 1C.
The vaccine is currently being given to group 1A, frontline health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.
These are only recommendations, made by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The CDC typically accepts the panel’s recommendations for its official advice – but states have the final say on how vaccines are distributed.
The committee included frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, teachers, corrections officers and others in the phase 1B group, but relegated “other essential workers” to phase 1C.
Phase 1B includes seniors ages 75 and older and frontline essential workers such as first responders, teachers, public transit employees, and grocery store staff. The list also includes people working in food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections, and the U.S. Postal Service. These workers “are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure” to Covid19, ACIP said.
Phase 1C includes seniors ages 65 to 74 years old, people ages 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, and other essential workers such as those working in transportation, food service, finance, and communications positions. These essential workers have a lower risk of exposure to the virus, according to the committee.
At this point, there isn’t enough vaccine available for people who make up the second and third round of vaccinations.
The U.S. currently projects it will have enough vaccine doses for 20 million people in December, 30 million in January and 50 million in February. Phase 1a includes at least 24 million people, phase 1b will add another 49 million people and phase 1c will broaden eligibility to another 129 million. If the broader group of essential workers had been included in Phase 1B, the demand for vaccine would far outstrip supply.
During the group’s discussion, Jeff Duchin, a liaison ACIP representative and health officer for Public Health Seattle and King County, Washington, said public health departments lack funding to step up COVID-19 immunization and face a difficult road ahead. He said the nation now has two “Cadillac vaccines” with “empty gas tanks,” reported the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesotа.
Health officials are emphasizing the need to continue to practice social distancing and mask wearing to reduce spread until enough people are able to receive the vaccine.
Although states generally follow the CDC’s guidelines, each creates its own plan to deal with situations unique to each state. CDC officials emphasized that local considerations may lead jurisdictions to vaccinate some subgroups earlier, such as prisoners and the homeless.
As a result, state governments are being lobbied by various interest groups and corporations, from Uber to transit and hospitality unions.
In states’ initial vaccine priority plans, most issued after the CDC’s first recommendations for the 1A group, the placement of truck drivers varies greatly. Arkansas, for instance, put truck drivers in Phase 1B – ahead of adults 65 years and older and adults of any age with chronic health conditions.
Alabama, in contrast, put long-distance truck drivers in Phase 4, along with groups such as office workers who do not have frequent close contact with coworkers, customers, or the public.
Those are subject to revision, however. As Arkansas noted, “Phases 1B and 1C are subject to change depending on further ACIP recommendations and vaccine supply.”