Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., on behalf of the National Center for Health Research
Thank you for the opportunity to express my views on behalf of the National Center for Health Research regarding the priorities for allocation of initial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines. Our center is a nonprofit think tank that scrutinizes the safety and effectiveness of medical products, and we do not accept funding from companies that make those products. My expertise is based on post-doctoral training in epidemiology and public health and more than 30 years of health policy expertise, including my previous employment at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Congress, and the White House.
If a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized through an EUA or approved by the FDA, we support prioritizing allocation to healthcare workers, paid and unpaid, and especially those in contact with patients. We agree that people working at long-term care facilities should be included with other healthcare workers. We also support the sub-prioritization considerations for healthcare workers that were specified by Dr. Sara Oliver at the December 1 meeting.
We support prioritizing healthcare workers because they are at clear risk of infection and also have the knowledge to make an informed decision about whether to be vaccinated. Protecting them against infection also protects their patients. We emphasize that healthcare workers should have the choice of whether or not to get the vaccine; it should not be required for a vaccine that is authorized rather than approved by the FDA.
Although we agree that people living in long-term care facilities are clearly at the greatest risk of severe reactions to COVID-19, including death, we are concerned about the lack of data on those types of patients, or any patients over 65 years of age. According to the Reactogenicity chart presented by Dr. Oliver, data are available for only 10 community-dwelling patients in that age group in the Moderna study and only 12 patients in the Pfizer study. It is not clear whether these are the total number of individuals who were vaccinated in those age groups, or the total number in studies published so far. Either way, that is not enough information for older adults living in long-term care facilities to make an informed decision about whether or not to get the vaccine, or for family members or physicians to help make that decision. It is essential that more patients over 65, and preferably more frail elderly patients, be carefully studied in the randomized clinical trials prior to a massive vaccination distribution to tens of thousands of patients. Such data should not take more than a few months to add to existing studies.
Patients in these facilities should not be pressured to be vaccinated. They should make an informed decision influenced by their personal preference and specific risk of infection. We are especially concerned that the vaccine might be less effective for older patients and that the pain and fatigue that was reported in the reactogenicity data for younger and older patients could be especially debilitating to long-term care patients, many of whom would not be at high risk of exposure if the employees at their facility have been vaccinated.