Young, Healthy College Students Shouldn’t Get Vaccine Before Older Adults

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Vaccine distribution plan is too complicated, doesn’t prioritize age enough

A healthy 21-year-old college student shouldn’t get the vaccine before a 64-year-old

A healthy 20-something plant worker shouldn’t get the vaccine before a 73-year-old

Raleigh, N.C. — Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) believes Gov. Cooper’s vaccine distribution plan puts too little emphasis on age and is overly complicated, which will result in decreased confidence and line-jumping.

Here are a few examples of problems with Gov. Cooper’s vaccine prioritization:

  • A healthy 21-year-old college student will receive the vaccine before a 64-year-old, even though the 64-year-old faces about 100 times higher risk of death if infected.

The prioritization scheme involves four phases, multiple sub-phases, and multiple sub-sub-phases. The system places young, healthy college students and prisoners ahead of people in their early 60s. In fact, people in their early 60s are the last group to receive the vaccine under the proposed system.

It also places young non-healthcare workers ahead of people in their early 70s.

Sen. Berger said, “I don’t think anybody objects to providing the first vaccines to frontline health workers and people above 75 years old. But I have reservations about putting healthy college students ahead of people in their early 60s who face a 10,000% higher risk of death. I understand the concern that college students spread the virus but the whole basis for that concern is they spread the virus to older people who might die. We should vaccinate those older people first.”

Berger continued, “As it stands now, this system puts people in their 60s dead last. It does not strike me as fair or equitable to prioritize a 19-year-old over a 64-year-old just because that 19-year-old is in prison or in college. Simplicity and common sense will improve trust in public health officials; complexity will result in line-jumping and a further decline in confidence.”

In North Carolina, nine college-aged adults have died from COVID-19, compared to 901 people aged 50–64. But college-aged adults have higher vaccine priority under Gov. Cooper’s system.

There are approximately 568,000 college students in the state, which is roughly equivalent to the number of people aged 60–64. The limited vaccine doses should go to the older and more at-risk group, not the younger group.

A recent study of vaccination strategies authored by Harvard and Univ. of Chicago experts found that “those 60 years and older should be prioritized to minimize deaths, assuming a return to pre-pandemic behavior during or after vaccine rollout. This recommendation is robust because of the dramatic differences in infection fatality ratio by age.”

Other countries recognize the importance of age and their vaccine prioritization reflects that. The United Kingdom’s Dept. of Health and Social Care, for instance, “advises that the first priorities for the COVID-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of mortality and the maintenance of the health and social care systems. As the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases with age, prioritisation is primarily based on age. The order of priority for each group in the population corresponds with data on the number of individuals who would need to be vaccinated to prevent one death, estimated from UK data obtained from March to June 2020.”

Here is their priority schedule, which does not place young, healthy people ahead of those who are older. They estimate that “these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19.”

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers.

The official Medium account for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger’s press office.

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