Vaccine news: data and concerns on early distribution

Everyone in the science communication world is talking about COVID-19 vaccines right now. I’ve attended three vaccine webinars in the past week alone.

We’re all gearing up for next Thursday, when the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet to discuss Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. If the vaccine is authorized for distribution, doses will go out to every state within days. Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine continues to demonstrate promising results. Moderna has also applied for EUA; FDA’s committee will meet to discuss this candidate on December 17.

Here are a few major data sources and issues that I’ll be watching as these vaccine candidates progress:

  • The CDC has recommended that the first available vaccine doses go to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.) The agency did not specify how state and local governments should prioritize among these groups.
  • How many people are actually in those high-priority groups in each state? To answer that question, see the Vaccine Allocation Planner for COVID-19, a new data tool from the Surgo Foundation, Ariadne Labs, and other collaborators. For each state, the tool uses population estimates from the Census, the CDC, and other sources to show how many healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, people with severe health conditions, and other high-risk individuals will need to be vaccinated. The tool is automatically set to calculate each state’s available doses as a population-adjusted share of 10 million, but users can adjust it to see how different scenarios may play out.
  • How many vaccine doses are actually going to each state? To answer this question, see the new COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Dashboard from Benjy Renton. Renton is compiling information from local news sources on dose distributions from Pfizer and Moderna’s early shipments. Remember that both of these vaccines require two doses per person. In Texas, for example, the first Pfizer shipment of 224,250 doses will allow about 11 in every 1,000 Texas to get vaccinated.
  • How will vaccination be tracked? The CDC has promised to set up a national dashboard similar to its flu registry, but until then, we must rely once again on state data. This CDC list of state immunization registries should be a useful starting point for any local reporters hoping to get a jump start on vaccine data. You’d better believe that I will be spending a lot of time with these registries in future issues.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation is setting up a new dashboard to track public opinion on COVID-19 vaccines. This initiative, called the COVID Vaccine Monitor, will compile the results of regular focus groups and surveys on whether Americans plan to get vaccinated and why. The dashboard is not live yet, but you can learn more about it and hear past KFF findings in the foundation’s December 3 briefing. One notable statistic: 67% of Black adults are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that vaccines will be distributed fairly, as of a KFF poll conducted in August-September.
  • For vaccine coverage outside the U.S., see this map of procurement data from the Launch & Scale Speedometer. This research group from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center has compiled the total vaccine doses purchased by over 30 nations. The dashboard also estimates the share of each nation’s population it could be able to cover with advanced vaccine purchases. Canada is highest on the scale at 601%; the nation’s extra doses will likely be donated to other countries.
  • STAT’s Helen Branswell has written a comprehensive feature on the vaccine-related challenges that lie ahead. Some of the big challenges: coordinating a speedy early rollout, overcoming vaccine distrust, distributing vaccine doses equitably, protecting vulnerable populations (such as pregnant women and children) on whom vaccine candidates have not yet been tested, and continuing to study additional vaccines once the first candidates to win EUA are rolled out.

What questions do you have around COVID-19 vaccines?

It’s time for our next brief reader survey, and this time, I want to hear your vaccine concerns. As this continues to be a major coverage topic for me, I’d like to be sure I’m prioritizing the needs of my readers in choosing specific vaccine-related issues and data sources to investigate.

This is a one-question survey. A few reader responses (from those who indicate they’re comfortable with it) will be shared next week.

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