US panel tackles race, poverty in virus vaccine priorities

In this undated photo provided by Johnson & Johnson in September 2020, a woman receives an injection during phase 3 testing for the Janssen Pharmaceutical-Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States. On Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, a U.S. advisory panel made recommendations for who should be first in line to get COVID-19 vaccine, including a plea for special efforts by states and cities to get vaccines to neighborhoods affected by systemic racism. (Johnson & Johnson via AP) (Cheryl Gerber)

A U.S. advisory panel made recommendations Friday for who should be first in line to get COVID-19 vaccine, including a plea for special efforts by states and cities to get the shots to low-income minority groups.

As expected, the panel recommended health care workers and first responders get first priority when vaccine supplies are limited. The shots should be provided free to all, the panel said. And throughout the vaccine campaign, efforts also should focus on disadvantaged areas to remedy racial health disparities, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

“Everybody knows from the news how deadly this has been for minorities,” panel co-chair William Foege of Emory Rollins School of Public Health said Friday. “We said it’s racism that is the root cause of this problem.”

“This virus has no concept of color but it has a very good concept of vulnerabilities,” he added.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit Black, Hispanic and Native Americans disproportionately in hospitalizations and deaths. Reasons are complex, but the disparities are thought to stem from minorities working in jobs on the front lines, having medical conditions associated with severe disease, higher rates of poverty and poor access to health care.

The report's authors saw their work as “one way to address these wrongs,” they wrote.

Federal health officials will have the final say on distributing the 300 million vaccine doses the government is buying under the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed. In practice, state and local health departments ultimately will have control over where they set up vaccination clinics.

The National Academies document lays out successive waves of vaccine distribution as manufacturing ramps up: