AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A group of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met virtually today to review what's known about potential vaccines for COVID-19. Vaccines are still in clinical trials right now, but the groundwork is being set to distribute them as soon as the Food and Drug Administration authorizes them. The main issue before the advisers is, who should be the first to get a vaccine? Well, NPR's Pien Huang has been following today's meeting, and she joins us now.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So tell us a little more about this group that met today. Like, what exactly is their role in how a vaccine might get rolled out?
HUANG: Sure. So the group is called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, and they make recommendations on every vaccine for the CDC. It's a group of medical and public health experts, mostly outside of CDC, with 15 voting members and others that weigh in. And their role in the government's plans around COVID vaccines is pretty key.
So once the FDA authorizes a vaccine based on safety and efficacy, this is the group that will determine things like how many doses should be given, how far apart and which groups of people should be getting these vaccines. And their recommendations will essentially trigger the start of the vaccine distribution process. Government officials say that as soon as this group's guidelines are accepted by the CDC, vaccines will start shipping out, and their aim is to start getting them into people's arms within 24 hours.
CHANG: OK. So that is the plan for when a vaccine is authorized. Obviously, no vaccine has gotten there yet. So what did this group discuss today?
HUANG: They discussed a lot of things in preparation for that milestone. So they heard from a few vaccine-makers on how their clinical trials are going. And they got an update on how states are preparing to get a vaccine out in their communities. It's still in the future, but Dr. Janell Routh, a CDC medical officer, says that future is coming right up.
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JANELL ROUTH: We are working towards a readiness date of November 15 based on projections of vaccine availability. We want to ensure that before a product is rolled out, jurisdictions have everything in place to accept and administer vaccine.
HUANG: The CDC wants states to be ready to start giving out COVID-19 vaccines as soon as the FDA OKs one. And I want to emphasize that this does not mean that a vaccine will be available by November 15. Some vaccine-makers have said they might present data to the FDA then or maybe by the end of November.
But the CDC wants states to get everything ready. They want them to enroll providers and get data tracking systems up and start talking with community leaders to receive a vaccine very soon. And even when a vaccine is first available, they do expect there to be a very limited number of doses in the beginning.
CHANG: Right. OK, so then the big question - who is going to get the vaccine first? Do they know?
HUANG: Well, the ACIP is not making specific recommendations until a vaccine is authorized. They say that it's because they have to look at the specific characteristics of a vaccine to figure out how it's best put to use. Their goals are to use the vaccine to reduce transmission, illness and deaths from COVID-19, and there's a few different strategies they're considering to do that. For instance, whether it makes sense to vaccinate groups like older people or those who are pregnant early on really depends on whether the vaccine works well in their bodies. And that's something that's still unknown for a lot of these vaccines that are still in trial.
The CDC did present a model today that suggested that saving lives from COVID might be more a matter of timing of when the COVID vaccine is available rather than who gets it second or third. But there seems to be a general consensus about who should get it first. It's health care workers. There's around 21 million of them. They get exposed to COVID regularly, and they're needed to keep our health systems running.
CHANG: That is NPR's Pien Huang.
Thank you, Pien.
HUANG: Thank you for having me.
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