Warner leads Senate colleagues calling for equity in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

covid-19 vaccine

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) is leading an effort to call on HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield to ensure a fair and equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The letter follows HHS Secretary Azar’s comments that states should decide who gets the first round of the federally approved COVID-19 vaccine, which could lead to a patchwork of varying distribution plans and affect vaccine access for minority and high-risk populations disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Warner’s letter calls on federal health officials to provide more support to states so that they fully understand and appropriately implement expert guidelines ensuring equity.

“We are writing to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine by working closely with states to understand and appropriately implement COVID-19 vaccine distribution recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As we approach potential emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for one or more COVID-19 vaccines, it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure access to the vaccine for communities and populations hit hardest by the pandemic,” the letter reads.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is a 15-member panel comprised of leading medical and public health experts with a focus on the fields of immunization practices and public health.

The Advisory Committee reports to the CDC Director and is responsible for developing evidence-based public health recommendations for the safe and ethical use of vaccines. In the case of COVID-19, where initial supplies of a vaccine will be limited, ACIP will make recommendations to ensure the vaccine is equitably distributed. Historically, states and localities – in coordination with federal health authorities – use ACIP recommendations to develop their vaccination strategies.

The letter also underscores how the COVID-19 crisis has continued to disproportionately affect older Americans, communities of color, and essential workers. Overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, and longstanding bias within the health care system itself have all contributed to these disparities.

“As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on millions of families and claimed the lives of more than 280,000 Americans to date. Older adults, essential workers and communities of color have been particularly hard hit by this virus. Individuals 85 and older are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19, while Black and Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and death compared to white Americans. Essential workers who cannot work from home also face high potential exposure to COVID-19 – particularly Americans living and working in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate care facilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times as likely to die of COVID-19 compared with others,” according to the letter.

Sen. Warner was joined on the letter by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

A copy of the letter can be found here.


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