According to the distribution framework announced by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) during an October webinar, dentists, dental hygienists and chairside assistants are essential healthcare workers who will be given priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The decision was made with the intention of protecting dental professionals as well as their patients.
As Pfizer and BioNTech have just announced a major development with their COVID-19 vaccine, citing over 90% effectiveness in preventing participants from contracting the virus, dental staff could expect to receive the vaccine much sooner than previously anticipated.
Dr. O’Loughlin, the executive director of ADA, pleaded for dental professionals to be given priority, ensuring the audience that dentists, hygienists and chairside assistants are essential healthcare workers who need to be protected.
Her appeal was a success and dental professionals have been included in the list of the most vulnerable at-risk groups, along with other essential healthcare workers, the medically-compromised elderly and high-risk Latino and Black communities.
Dr. Gehani, ADA president, and Dr. O’Loughlin were thrilled with the result and made that clear in their letter to the National Academies.
“We applaud your thoughtful consideration of how to allocate the early supply of a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier-1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing oral diseases, and possibly even save lives”, wrote the doctors.
Priority Order for the COVID Vaccine
WHO provides a list of groups who should have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine. But NASEM takes it a step further and ranks the groups in order of who should be vaccinated first. Here’s the breakdown:
Phase 1A (5% vaccine allocation)
- Frontline healthcare workers
- Healthcare workers at risk of exposure to bodily fluids or aerosols
- First responders
Phase 1B (10% vaccine allocation)
- People of any age with comorbid and underlying conditions putting them at a significantly high risk of severe COVID-19 disease or death
- People aged 65+ living in congregate or overcrowded settings, such as nursing homes and jails
Phase 2 (30-35% vaccine allocation)
- K-12 teachers and school staff
- Child care workers
- Critical workers in high-risk settings, such as food supply and public transit
- People of any age with comorbid and underlying conditions putting them at a moderately high risk
- People who live in or work at homeless shelters or group homes
- Employees of prisons, jails and detention centers
- Everyone aged 65+
Phase 3 (40-45% vaccine allocation)
- Young adults
- Workers in industries such as colleges and universities, hotels, banks, exercise facilities and factories that are important to the continuing functionality of society and pose a moderately high risk of exposure
Phase 4 (5-15% vaccine allocation)
- Everyone in the United States who has not already been vaccinated
(Note: Phase 1A and 1B may be implemented simultaneously.)
Although organizations such as WHO and NASEM have issued the above guidelines, it’s important to understand that none of it is official. As we learn more about the virus and how it affects the immune system, it’s necessary to amend the list to get the best results.
Even after a vaccine has completed it’s trials and is available to the public, it’s still likely the framework will be developed as things change. The goal is to protect as many people as possible from COVID-19. As studies and research reveal more valuable information, the guideline may need to change to keep inline with that goal.
Why Priority is Different for the COVID Vaccine
Many nations throughout the world already have vaccine allocation plans, but these frameworks are designed to vaccinate against a virus like influenza — not the new coronavirus. Standard vaccine plans usually prioritize pregnant women and children, but this isn’t the case for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Few coronavirus vaccine trials currently include pregnant women and studies have shown that the virus has minimal effects in children. Because of this, pregnant women are not included in a priority group (if they don’t fall into any other category, pregnant women will be vaccinated in phase four) and children aren’t listed until phase three.
COVID-19 isn’t going to be eradicated overnight. It’s going to take months of precautions and vaccination campaigns until we get the virus under control. That’s why it’s so important to make sure people like dental professionals, healthcare workers and other essential workers are protected first, so they can help keep others safe and everyday life can go on.
When will the vaccine become available?
Pfizer and BioNTech plan on applying for emergency approval to make the vaccine available to the public by the end of November. If granted, the companies expect to produce up to 50 million doses by the end of 2020 and as many as 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
The 90% effectiveness result is based on 94 cases of the disease which occurred in participants receiving the vaccine or a placebo. At least 164 cases of the disease need to occur across the study in order to reliably determine the vaccine’s true efficiency. To gather this information, trials will continue for months after the vaccine’s emergency approval has been given.
Although the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is closest to being released, it’s not the only one in the race. There are at least ten other vaccines in the final stages of testing that should be submitting results in the coming weeks and months. If any of these show similar results, the number of vaccines produced will increase and things could get back to normal faster than expected.
What still needs to be done?
While the positive outlook of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is great news, it’s only one step in a long process. There’s still plenty more action that needs to be taken.
- Trials need to prove that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe. The vaccine is useless if it creates more problems than the disease it prevents.
- Tests need to confirm if the vaccine stops people spreading the virus, or if it just stops people from developing symptoms.
- Results need to show that those who take it stop people getting sick or at least reduce the mortality rate of the disease.
- How long immunity lasts needs to be settled. However, this could take months or even years to deduce.
- Manufacturers need to find a way of developing vaccines on a huge scale, with billions of doses needed worldwide.
- The vaccine must be approved by regulators before it can be administered to the public.
Most scientists agree that 60-70% of the world’s population needs to be immune to COVID-19 to stop it spreading so easily. This is known as herd immunity. Using the 90% effective Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine as an example, this means billions of people around the world need to be vaccinated for it to have any major effect.
Should Dental Professionals Get the COVID Vaccine?
The priority list for the COVID-19 vaccination isn’t going to be forced upon anyone. Accepting the vaccination is a personal decision every individual needs to make on their own. In an Ipsos survey carried out on behalf of the World Economic Forum, 74% of people around the world would get the vaccine if it was available. In the United States, this figure drops down to 67%.
According to ADA, dental professionals should consider the risk of contracting the disease, the well-being of coworkers and patients, and any yet unknown risks associated with the vaccine when considering receiving the inoculation.