CDC announces priorities for distributing COVID-19 vaccine

Published on September 22, 2020
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AVMA advocates for early veterinary access

A new interim guide issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that veterinary team members may have access to an eventual COVID-19 vaccine in one of the early stages of distribution.

The CDC’s Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations, issued September 16, serves as an interim guide for state, territorial, and local public health programs and their partners in planning and operationalizing a vaccination response to COVID-19 within their jurisdictions.

It identifies three phases for vaccine distribution and advises that critical infrastructure workers should have access to vaccine in Phase I, following distribution to healthcare workers.

3 phases of vaccine availability

The guide identifies these three phases of vaccine availability and distribution:

Phase I assumes a limited number of doses are available and is divided into subphases I-A and I-B.

  • Phase I-A includes people serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home.
  • Phase I-B includes people who play key roles in keeping essential functions of society running and cannot socially distance in the workplace, and those who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. The playbook notes that the identification of critical infrastructure workers varies by jurisdiction. Based on the descriptions and sample worksheet provided in the playbook, it’s possible that many veterinarians and teams could be accommodated in Phase I-B.

Phase II assumes a large number of doses are available and focuses on ensuring access to vaccine for members of Phase I populations who aren’t yet vaccinated, as well as for the general population. It incorporates a broader provider network and settings, including healthcare settings (doctor’s offices, clinics), commercial-sector settings (retail pharmacies), and public health venues (public health clinics, mobile clinics, and community settings).

Phase III assumes a sufficient supply of vaccine is available for the entire population. It provides for open and equitable access, encompasses a shift to a routine vaccination strategy, and includes public and private partner sites as providers.

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Where veterinary teams fit in

Shortly before the playbook’s release, the National Academy of Sciences sought comment on a document intended to inform the playbook: Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. AVMA provided comments on this draft during a brief comment period (Sept. 1-4), advocating for veterinarians and veterinary team members to be considered a priority group for vaccination. AVMA’s comments used the following rationale:

  • Veterinarians and veterinary teams contribute directly to supporting the food and agriculture industries, providing services that are considered essential to continued critical infrastructure viability. In addition to providing critical support for the sufficiency and safety of our nation’s food supply, veterinarians also help ensure the health and wellbeing of the pets that share our homes. Those pets have played an important role in supporting their owners’ physical and mental wellbeing during the pandemic.
  • We are at risk of exposure. Although the veterinary profession has been creative in implementing important risk management controls during the pandemic, maintaining physical distance from our clients and staff members can be difficult when handling animals or performing medical procedures. To ensure animals receive appropriate care, we may be regularly exposed to members of the public who are symptomatically or asymptomatically ill, as well as to certain animal species that we know can be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
  • Veterinary professionals actively protect animal and public health through surveillance for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in animals. Our surveillance function extends well beyond SARS-CoV-2, encompassing other potentially zoonotic and non-zoonotic diseases.
  • The high degree of public trust in veterinary professionals supports veterinarians actively sharing public health messaging about the importance of vaccination. Such messaging is most effectively conveyed if veterinarians and veterinary teams have themselves received the vaccine.

Powered by you: Work needed at the local level

As the CDC playbook notes, the identification of critical infrastructure workers occurs at the state and local levels, and varies by jurisdiction. That means there’s work to be done at those levels of government to help secure early veterinary access to a COVID-19 vaccine once one is available.

The voices of veterinarians and veterinary team members are important to this work. Veterinary professionals can work with our local and state veterinary associations to support prioritized access for veterinary team members in our own communities. 

Other priority groups

Veterinary professionals may be able to get even earlier access to a COVID-19 vaccine if their personal situation puts them at higher risk. People 65 or older and individuals with certain comorbidities are reported by the CDC to be at increased risk of COVID-19. When seeking vaccination,  consult with your healthcare provider regarding your potential risk for contracting COVID-19.


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