Coordination with the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommendations Will Ensure Access to Vaccines for Minority Communities and Other Groups at Disproportionate Risk to Covid-19

Washington, D.C. – As the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) independent vaccine review panel meets to consider the emergency use authorization of an initial COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) led eight of their colleagues in urging Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to ensure a fair and equitable 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. The senators’ letter calls on federal health officials to provide more support to states so that they fully understand and appropriately implement expert guidelines ensuring equity. 

Mark Warner (D-VA)

“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,” wrote the senators to HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) 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. Ohio plans to incorporate recommendations from ACIP to plan and execute its vaccine distribution program.

In their letter, the senators also underscore how the COVID-19 crisis has continued to disproportionately affect older Americans, communities of color, and essential workers. In many cases, these disparities have been exacerbated by factors like overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, and longstanding bias within the health care system itself.

The senators also urge that HHS and CDC work closely with state and local officials to ensure they fully understand and implement ACIP’s recommendations in a manner that prioritizes public health, equity, and the wellbeing of vulnerable communities.

Sens. Brown and Warner were also joined on the letter by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), 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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