Top News Stories for the Week of December 14

First COVID-19 Vaccine Given to U.S. Public

Wall Street Journal

More than 50 hospitals and health departments nationwide took delivery Monday of the first doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, with health care workers at some sites receiving injections the same day. Long-term care facilities will start receiving shipments of the vaccine next week, with CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance administering the immunizations under an agreement with the federal government. Just shy of 3 million doses overall are slated to be distributed throughout the United States by the end of the week as the country undertakes the biggest and most urgent immunization campaign seen in nearly half a century. Public health officials are hopeful the vaccine will help turn around the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. They have important barriers to overcome, however, including public mistrust-particularly in the Black community, which has not forgotten the notorious Tuskegee experiment that left hundreds of men untreated for syphilis-as well as funding shortfalls and tight supplies.

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Pathologists Want First Crack at COVID Vaccines

MedPage Today

Pathologists, technicians, and other staff who run COVID-19 tests should be on the priority list to receive COVID-19 vaccines, even though most of them do not have direct patient contact, according to panelists at a recent media briefing. The College of American Pathologists event discussed the many challenges the laboratory community must deal with, including reagent shortages and increased testing throughput. Speakers also noted the risks that pathologists and technicians faced personally, as they process specimens, maintain equipment, and manage testing supplies, largely behind the scenes. Laboratory employees "are encountering and handling thousands of samples that have active live virus in them … some getting 10,000 samples a day; that's a lot of handling of infectious specimens, and we do want them to be prioritized for vaccination," said Amy Karger, MD, a faculty investigator at the University of Minnesota and medical director of MHealth Fairview Point-of-Care Testing. "They truly are front line workers and often are forgotten." Christina Wojewoda, MD, director of the clinical microbiology laboratory at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, said it is her "highest priority" to make sure that lab staff are among the first health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. They are already dealing with burnout and fatigue, she said, noting "we need to keep them healthy." During a follow-up phone call, CAP President Patrick Godbey, MD, agreed that laboratory staff should be in the "top tier" in terms of COVID vaccination. "I think they should be considered in the same tier as nurses," said Godbey, laboratory director at Southeastern Pathology Associates and Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Ga. "They're indispensable. Without them, there'd be no one to run the tests."

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CDC Reports Record Influenza Vaccine Distribution

The Hill

New CDC data show that roughly 188 million doses of the influenza vaccine have been distributed throughout the United States, the most ever during a single influenza season. CDC noted the country hit the record late last month, with an estimated 44.5 million adult influenza vaccinations administered in pharmacies by November 21, a 46% increase from 2019. The number of vaccinations administered in medical offices as of November 14, however, declined by 8%, from 27.4 million in 2019 to 25.3 million in 2020. It is not clear whether the sharp increase in adults receiving vaccinations at pharmacies is due to a larger trend of more adults getting vaccinated or whether more adults are opting for pharmacies due to convenience and accessibility. CDC noted in its report, "In the context of the ongoing pandemic, flu vaccination is considered more important than ever to help ensure that influenza illnesses and hospitalizations do not further tax an already overburdened health care system."

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