The Next Phase

Sep 3, 2020

We all want answers these days, answers to a number of critical questions. Many of them, it is fair to guess, have to do with the coronavirus. There just don’t appear to be as many answers as there are questions. A COVID vaccine seems to be at the center of some of them. When will there be a vaccine? How long will it last?  How many vaccines will be available? With the supply expected to be limited, who will get priority to access?

Most of those questions remain unanswered. But as scientists across the globe focus on and compete to develop the vaccine, a special advisory group here in the United States has concentrated on creating a plan to answer the priority question, so that innoculations can be administered rapidly once they have been approved. Now we have the plan. On September 1, that expert panel reported to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine with a strategy that would use a four-phase approach to administer the vaccines. It is designed to get doses first to those who are deemed most at risk. That, of course, is simple logic; but just how risk is determined and prioritized is not. It is why such questions are left to the experts.

On Monday those experts delivered preliminary answers that are good news for seniors. And it has been some time since there was widespread good news for those older individuals among us who were among the first to be sent into quarantine based solely on vulnerability due to their age alone. Over the course of a long succession of months now, in many cases their sheltering at home has led to isolation. And isolation and “invisibility” has led thousands if not millions to feel overlooked. But the good news is that they weren’t forgotten by the experts.

The plan they devised would divide and prioritize all people of all ages into one of four phases. The first to get a vaccine in Phase 1, which they call the “Jumpstart Phase,” will be most critical health care workers, first responders and older individuals residing in facilities like nursing homes. Then, in Phase 2 all other seniors who did not receive the vaccine in Phase 1 will be eligible to receive it. This is important, given what is expected to be the limited vaccine supply. It is also noteworthy because seniors are the only adult group deemed eligible by virtue of their age alone. Younger adults will be categorized by occupation, health status and other factors.

Although no one can predict when the vaccine will be available, we at NFESH are encouraged by this bit of positive news. In fact, we even believe that just hearing it might be a dose good medicine for millions of seniors. They might still be living behind closed doors, but now they know that they are far from invisible or forgotten. It is the kind of information we like to report.


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