Here's Who Will Get the First COVID-19 Vaccines in the U.S.

Health care workers and long-term care facility residents should be offered a COVID-19 vaccine first when one becomes available in the U.S., an immunization advisory committee decided on Tuesday.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which makes vaccine-related recommendations to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss and vote on how the first available doses of a future COVID-19 vaccine should be distributed. Thirteen voting members of the committee voted in favor of approving the recommendation proposing initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine be offered to health care personnel and long-term care facility residents first, while one voting member voted against it. The ACIP's recommendation will next go to the director of the CDC for approval.

The recommendation approved by the ACIP read, "When a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by FDA and recommended by ACIP, vaccination in the initial phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program (Phase 1a) should be offered to both 1) health care personnel and 2) residents of long-term care facilities."

COVID-19 vaccine illustration
An illustration picture shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached, and syringes, on November 17, 2020. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met on Tuesday to vote on who should receive COVID-19 vaccines first in the U.S. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

According to the ACIP, health care personnel are defined as "paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials." The ACIP defined long-term care facility residents as "adults who reside in facilities that provide a variety of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently." Long-term care facility staff members would be included within the health care personnel group, the committee said.

The ACIP said 40 million doses could be available to distribute by the end of December, after which weekly doses available for distribution were estimated to be between 5 million and 10 million.

Health experts have predicted for months that the initially available vaccine doses would be made available to health care workers and those at high risk of infection due to the virus' easily transmissible nature and the severity with which it attacks some patients. Additional vaccine doses are expected to be available for other individuals who are part of lower priority groups in the months ahead. According to the ACIP's phased vaccine distribution proposals, essential workers would be offered vaccines in the next phase, and the third distribution phase would offer doses to adults with high-risk medical conditions and those 65 and older.

No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in the U.S. as of December 1, but two pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer and Moderna—applied for emergency use authorizations through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late November. Both companies said their vaccines—each of which require an initial dose and a booster a few weeks later—were found to be more than 90 percent effective during clinical trials conducted in recent months.

The Pfizer vaccine could receive its emergency use approval from the FDA as early as mid-December following an FDA meeting on December 10. Government officials have indicated in recent days that distribution will begin swiftly after a vaccine receives the necessary approvals from the FDA.

By Tuesday, December 1, more than 13.6 million people had contracted COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 269,000 people had died, according to a Johns Hopkins University data tracker. Though state leaders have tried to flatten the curve of the virus' spread for months, cases were on the rise in most states throughout the fall, with COVID-19-related hospitalizations reaching their highest number yet by the end of November. Health experts have predicted that the country's battle with the pandemic will only get worse in the months ahead as temperatures drop, winter respiratory diseases spread and as people feel enticed to gather with friends and family throughout the holiday season.

While some are hopeful that multiple vaccine approvals on the horizon could bring an end to the pandemic, health experts have cautioned that it will take time to immunize those who want a vaccination, which means it will also take time for daily life to find a semblance of normalcy. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, told CNN last month that it was possible vaccines would be widely available to most Americans by April 2021.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.