February 4, 2021

State panel recommends vaccines go next to teachers, first responders, food and agricultural workers

By Victoria Colliver, Politico Pro


California is considering prioritizing three groups of workers to receive Covid-19 vaccines after health care workers and nursing residents: those in education and child care, emergency services, and the food and agricultural sectors, members of a physician-led state advisory committee said Wednesday.

The state working group charged with determining who’s next in line for the vaccine revealed the next phase of the distribution priority list — encompassing some 5.9 million workers — to the more than 60 members of the state’s vaccine community advisory committee during a Wednesday meeting.

With 2 million doses expected to arrive by the end of the month — and up to 4 million doses by the end of January — it’s still unlikely there will be enough to go around. That means workers within those sectors will have to be sub-prioritized according to other factors, such as age, risk and equity concerns, the working group said.

The background: California this week started administering the first tranche of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — more than 33,000 doses — to health care workers, with more doses and enough for residents and staff of nursing homes expected to follow soon. While there’s been general agreement on this first set of recipients, the next phase has been far less clear.

California created a 16-member work group to make those decisions, and the larger advisory committee is charged with advising that group to make sure that as many factors as possible are taken into account. The group received more than 140 comments from various groups and sectors — court staff, teachers, solid waste management workers, Amazon delivery drivers, cleaning service and retail employees — all wanting to be next in line to get the vaccine.

“All of this improves and makes better California’s response and vaccine allocation strategy,” said California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, who’s leading the community advisory committee.

So who’s next? That’s still being determined. The decision won’t be made by who lobbies the loudest, but by a process that determines which groups are next based on a number of criteria, including the necessity of the job to society, the impact on already disadvantaged communities and the risk of occupational exposure.

Based on the community group’s feedback, the physician-led working group divided the essential workers likely to be selected next into those three broad categories in no particular order: education and child care, emergency services and food and agriculture.

The state’s 1.4 million educational and child care workers include those in all levels, from pre-school through university and including trade schools. The 1.1 million emergency services workers include first responders, those in non-residential services for the elderly and people with disabilities, shelters and justice activities.

The largest group — some 3.4 million Californians — are agricultural and food processing workers, those who work at grocery and food and drink establishments as well as drug store, nursery and sawmill employees. Determinations have yet to be made about who will be first up within those groups.

What’s next? The community advisory committee still needs to sign off on the three broad categories of workers to next receive the vaccine. Several members had questions about how the individuals within each group would be selected to receive the vaccine, and how the counties would manage the process.

The committee delayed its next meeting — originally scheduled for Monday — until Wednesday to allow federal advisory groups time to review another vaccine, by Moderna, that is poised to receive FDA approval. That vaccine would also need approval by a four-state West Coast panel, which unanimously endorsed the Pfizer vaccine over the weekend.