Federal and state officials agree that the nation’s 21 million health care workers should be first in line [for a COVID vaccine]. But there is no consensus about how to balance the needs of other high-risk groups, including the 53 million adults aged 65 or older, 87 million essential workers and more than 100 million people with medical conditions that increase their vulnerability to the virus.
The Trump administration has told states that they have ultimate authority for determining who gets vaccinated first. It has also decided to allocate scarce early doses based on states’ total populations, forcing hard choices in states with a greater proportion of residents at high risk — including Black, Indigenous and Latino communities that have suffered disproportionate rates of hospitalization and death from Covid-19.
Public health experts say that could undermine already shaky public confidence in the vaccine effort, whose success depends on convincing large numbers of Americans to get immunized.
“States are going to have to pick and choose who gets the first doses,” said Josh Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation who has reviewed nearly every state’s distribution plan. “It’s very obvious that states are in different places when it comes to planning and identifying who those people are.”