UF Health professor part of prestigious national committee advising on COVID-19 vaccine allocation

A national committee that includes a prominent University of Florida physician has recommended to federal and world leaders a four-phase approach to fairly allocate COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. In its Oct. 2 report, the 18-member committee said that deciding who gets the COVID-19 vaccines first is crucial because initial doses are expected to be limited.

Sonja A. Rasmussen, M.D.

“I feel very honored to be on the committee and help make decisions about priorities for the COVID-19 vaccine, given that there are unlikely to be enough doses for everyone who wants one when it is available,’’ Sonja A. Rasmussen, M.D., a professor in the departments of pediatrics and epidemiology at the UF College of Medicine and UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “Our goal was to provide a framework to ensure that the limited doses are allocated in an equitable way.”

Rasmussen and her colleagues were a part of a committee formed in July by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus was formed at the request of officials at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide independent, scientific and medical-based guidance on how pending COVID-19 vaccines should be allocated.

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Rasmussen is a clinical geneticist who spent two decades working on public health issues with the CDC before joining UF Health. Her expertise includes handling vaccine issues during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, serving as a deputy for the CDC’s pandemic planning unit, and addressing vaccine hesitancy. She has also written several papers and giving many presentations about COVID-19 this year.A woman wearing a blue dress stands outside with her arms crossed.

The committee recommended a phased approach to initial vaccine distribution: First responders and high-risk health care workers should get the vaccine first, followed closely by people with underlying conditions that put them at significantly higher risk of contracting the disease and older adults living in group environments. Those groups account for about 15% of the U.S. population. The second phase, the committee stated, should include primary and secondary school teachers, essential workers in high-risk settings; people with underlying medical conditions that put them at moderately higher risk of infection, jail inmates and others. That amounts to about 35% of the U.S. population. Phase 3 (about 40% of the population) should include young adults and children while Phase 4 includes the remaining U.S. population.

“The expectation is that the framework we developed will inform the decisions by public health authorities, including CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, as they put together guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine allocation,” Rasmussen said.

Federal agencies should also leverage their resources to distribute the vaccine and related supplies, administer it at no cost regardless of health insurance coverage or immigration status and rapidly develop a promotional campaign to increase vaccine acceptance, the committee said. Because of the pandemic’s global reach, U.S. officials should also work with international health leaders to assure that any vaccine is accessible and allocated equitably throughout the world, the committee noted.

“We hope these guidelines serve as the impetus for one of the most consequential peacetime efforts this country has ever seen, as well as a springboard to resuming our place as a leader in global health,” said committee co-chair William H. Foege, M.D., emeritus distinguished professor of international health at Emory University and former CDC director.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.

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