SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — At the Mission Food Hub on Sunday, volunteers handed out Christmas presents to a long line of families.
Many are frontline workers who are struggling as the economy craters. Their community is also getting hit hard by COVID-19.
The buzz among those gathered included talk of COVID vaccines and when they would have access to shots to help protect their families from the deadly virus.
On Sunday, a federal advisory panel recommended that people 75 and older and essential workers like firefighters, teachers and grocery store workers should be next in line for vaccination, while a second vaccine began rolling out to hospitals.
The two developments came amid a vaccination program that began only in the last week and has given initial shots to about 556,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech already is being distributed, and regulators last week gave approval to the one from Moderna Inc. that began shipping Sunday.
Earlier this month, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said health care workers and nursing home residents — about 24 million people — should be at the very front of the line for the vaccines.
Sunday’s vote by the panel was who should be next in line, and by a 13-1 margin, it was decided that it should be people 75 and older, who number about 20 million, as well as certain front-line workers, who total about 30 million.
The essential workers include firefighters and police; teachers and school staff; those working in food, agricultural and manufacturing sectors; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service employees; public transit workers; and grocery store workers. They are considered at very high risk of infection because their jobs are critical and require them to be in regular contact with other people.
“I hope that frontline workers get the same kind of quality vaccine that a doctor gets,” said Mission Hub founder Roberto Hernandez, who adds there is a skepticism of the vaccine based on past instances of unfairness.
“We learned a lot from the AIDS epidemic,” Hernandez said. “People of color were treated one way and other folks who had money were treated a different way. So that’s the equity that I’m hoping that all those who are decision makers, take that experience into consideration.”
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, said equity was a big factor in the recommendation.
“This is an infection that has disproportionately impacted black and Latino workers, and it is really reflective of the essential workforce. And so, this will also lead to a greater diversity of participants being vaccinated first.”
Dr. Gandhi said she was pleasantly surprised to see teachers make the list.
“What the CDC did and I also admire them for this is say, ‘We have to get kids back to school, this is absolutely essential because of the social aspect of being a child.’ And so it was a bold move to say teachers are essential workers and they need to be out in the workforce.”