ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There was more promising news on a COVID-19 vaccine today. The vaccine made by Moderna is 94% effective in preventing the disease. And as the good news about vaccines accumulates, a CDC committee is holding an emergency meeting tomorrow to lay down guidelines on who should get the first shots. NPR's Pien Huang is here with a preview.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What exactly is the committee expected to vote on at tomorrow's meeting?
HUANG: Well, this is a group that's been holding monthly public meetings to talk about COVID vaccine progress - things like which ones look the most promising and who needs it the most. And tomorrow, for the first time, they've scheduled a vote on COVID vaccines, specifically on who should get the vaccine first. They've been considering it for months now, and tomorrow they'll make a decision.
SHAPIRO: That seems like an enormous responsibility. Who is this committee made of? Who's on it?
HUANG: Yeah. So this is a federal advisory group to the CDC, and it's made up of 15 voting members, mostly medical and public health experts outside of CDC, so it's independent. The committee had previously said that they would wait for a vaccine to be authorized before making recommendations, but recently they've been feeling pressure from the government to move faster. By voting tomorrow, states will have a chance to use their guidance as they place vaccine orders, which are due to the federal government by Friday.
SHAPIRO: I know there's been a lot of public conversation about who should be first in line - any sense of what the committee is likely to recommend?
HUANG: Yeah. Well, we've long heard that health care workers are expected to be the very first in line, and that's doctors, nurses, hospital workers, nursing home staff that get exposed to COVID. But last week the group proposed also including nursing home residents and other adults in long-term care facilities in this very first group. That's because 40% of COVID deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities, so the hope is that vaccinating residents could save a lot of lives. But the vaccine has mostly been tested in healthy people, so it's not completely clear that it's a hundred percent safe and effective in frail, older people.
SHAPIRO: And will there be enough in the early days to cover all of these priority groups?
HUANG: I mean, vaccine doses are supposed to be very limited in the beginning. The government has told states to expect a first batch of around 6.4 million vaccines and more coming every week after that. But the CDC estimates that there are 21 million health care workers and around 2 million people in long-term care facilities. So even within that health care worker group, decisions are going to have to be made about which ones get vaccinated first. You know, is it acute care staff? Is it health workers who don't have enough protective gear? These are things the group will consider. And don't forget everyone that gets one will need two doses.
SHAPIRO: And once those people have been vaccinated, there is an entire population of the U.S. where many millions of people are going to be waiting in line - any sense of how long it might be until a vaccine is widely available to the general public?
HUANG: Well, I think that's a question that a lot of people have right now. And Operation Warp Speed, the government's project to fast-track a COVID vaccine, says they could be available to most Americans as early as April. Other estimates suggest that the general public would not get it until summer or maybe later next year.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Pien Huang.
Thanks a lot.
HUANG: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.