Tagged United States Politics and Government

Well, So Much for Dry January


So Much for Dry January?

It’s been an intense and distressing month in America.

This you?
This you?Credit…Getty Images
Alex Williams

  • Jan. 12, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Well, that was quick.

Dry January, the social-media fueled month of voluntary sobriety, became Damp January in under a week for many temporary teetotalers. Many were horrified enough by the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the ensuing protracted situation to break their vow and reach for the bottle, as evidenced by jokes, confessions and memes ricocheting around Twitter and Instagram.

Among bandwagoneers, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conversation was happening offline, too, as many attempting four weeks as non-tipplers decided that a national crisis was bigger than a 31-day health kick.

Dry January at least seemed like a sensible way to start fresh in 2021, said Nina McConigley, an assistant honors professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie who swore off her extended pandemic cocktail kick.

But as she and her husband watched the tragedy unfold on television, feeling “sad and useless,” a nice dinner and a bottle of tempranillo seemed like the only balm, Ms. McConigley, 45, said: “I am of color, watching the Confederate flag being paraded in the Capitol, it was the worst. The act of a hot warm dinner and nice wine, it felt self-preserving.”

After five days of lemon detox tea, for example, Emily Titelman, an event producer in Los Angeles, detoured to tequila and orange juice on Wednesday, to ease her nerves after witnessing a mob send elected officials, their staff and media into hiding for their lives.

“As someone who is very politically engaged, I felt morally obligated to return to the news,” Ms. Titelman, 35, said. The drink, she added, “absolutely took the edge off my very real anger.”

People surround the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
People surround the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A year of quarantine had converted Adam Roberts, 41, the creator of Amateur Gourmet, a food blog, from social drinker to a regular home drinker, he said. It got to the point that he had vowed that very day, on a walk with his husband, the film director Craig Johnson, and their dog in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, to cut out drinking on weekdays during January.

“But when we got home and saw the images of a guy in a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt storming the U.S. Capitol, I said, ‘I changed my mind. Make me a Oaxacanite,” he said.

Others who had pledged a month of sobriety managed to stay dry through the crisis, if barely.

Hitha Palepu, a pharmaceuticals executive in New York, leaned on more than 20 Dry January accountability groups she had started on Instagram to convince her to to boil a kettle for tea (albeit, with a drop or two of CBD,) rather than uncork a bottle of pinot noir.

“I had spent the past four years numbing the feelings that the news brought me with wine,” Ms. Palepu, 36, said. “This time, I chose to fully feel these feelings and find a new way to process them. It was my own little act of resistance for my present and future self, against my past self.”

The vision of the president of the United States goading his supporters against Congress, the Senate and his own vice president proved to be a shocking test for Frauke Weston, who is German and a marketing manager in Brooklyn. She was wondering if she could stick with her alcohol-free month she began, as she awaits her final interview to gain citizenship later this month.

“I keep getting messages from German and American friends alike, jokingly asking ‘Are you sure you want to sign up for this?’” Ms. Weston said.

For those who signed on to Dry January as a wellness experiment, like a juice cleanse, it seemed all in good fun to ditch their resolve after a few days and post jokey memes on Twitter, like the oft-quoted line from the 1980 comedy film “Airplane” — “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

But for many with addiction issues, the crisis of Jan. 6 was a graver matter, particularly after a wearying 2020 that seemed like a stress-ridden version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” said Dr. Joseph Lee, the medical director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minneapolis.

“You’re seeing the intersection of pandemic stress, economic stress, political and social strife, and all those things have added together and predictably have increased the consumption of various substances by high-risk people,” Dr. Lee said in an email.

A lot of people, he said, were posting messages on social media like, “‘We made it five days, then everything went dumpster-fire-emoji,’” he said. “But on a serious level, when people are isolated and already over-interpreting the news, worrying too much, and losing confidence in our sense of democracy, all these things can be tipping points for people at risk.”

For those with the luxury of experimenting with sobriety by choice, however, the evenings of hot tea with lemon will last only through a month, even if the political chaos does not.

A day after breaking her Dry January vow, Ms. McConigley was back on the wagon, intent to last through the month. Well, most of the month, anyway.

“My one exception for the month has always been Jan 20,” she said. “We have a special bottle of champagne we are saving for Inauguration Day.”

Pressure Grows for States to Open Vaccines to More Groups of People

Pressure Grows for States to Open Vaccines to More Groups of People

Some states are already expanding eligibility to people 65 and over, even though millions of people the C.D.C. recommends go first — health care workers and nursing home residents — have yet to get shots.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, right, during vaccinations at the John Knox Village nursing home in Pompano Beach, Fla., last month.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, right, during vaccinations at the John Knox Village nursing home in Pompano Beach, Fla., last month.Credit…Marta Lavandier/Associated Press
Abby Goodnough

  • Jan. 9, 2021, 12:00 p.m. ET

Just weeks into the country’s coronavirus vaccination effort, states have begun broadening access to the shots faster than planned, amid tremendous public demand and intense criticism about the pace of the rollout.

Some public health officials worry that doing so could bring even more chaos to the complex operation and increase the likelihood that some of the highest-risk Americans will be skipped over. But the debate over how soon to expand eligibility is intensifying as deaths from the virus continue to surge, hospitals are overwhelmed with critically ill patients and millions of vaccine doses delivered last month remain in freezers.

Governors are under enormous pressure from their constituents — especially older people, who vote in great numbers and face the highest risk of dying from the virus — to get the doses they receive into arms swiftly. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s decision, announced Friday, to release nearly all available doses to the states when he takes office on Jan. 20, rather than holding half to guarantee each recipient gets a booster shot a few weeks after the first, is likely to add to that pressure.

Some states, including Florida, Louisiana and Texas, have already expanded who is eligible to get a vaccine now, even though many people in the first priority group recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the nation’s 21 million health care workers and three million residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — have not yet received a shot.

On Friday afternoon, New York became the latest state to do so, announcing that it would allow people 75 and over and certain essential workers to start receiving a vaccine on Monday.

But reaching a wider swath of the population requires much more money than states have received for the task, many health officials say, and more time to fine-tune systems for moving surplus vaccine around quickly, to increase the number of vaccination sites and people who give the shots, and to establish reliable appointment systems to prevent endless lines and waits.

Some states’ expansions have led to frantic and often futile efforts by older people to get vaccinated. After Florida opened up vaccinations to anyone 65 and older late last month, the demand was so great that new online registration portals quickly overloaded and crashed, people spent hours on the phone trying to secure appointments and others waited overnight at scattered pop-up sites offering shots on a first-come first-served basis.

Similar scenes have played out in parts of Texas, Tennessee and a handful of other states.

Still, with C.D.C. data suggesting that only about a third of the doses distributed so far have been used, Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, told reporters this past week: “It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process. Faster administration would save lives right now, which means we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Boxes of Moderna’s vaccine were prepared for shipment at a distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., last month.
Boxes of Moderna’s vaccine were prepared for shipment at a distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., last month.Credit…Pool photo by Paul Sancya

The C.D.C. guidelines were drawn up by an independent committee of medical and public health experts that advises the agency on immunization practices; it deliberated for months about who should get vaccinated initially, while supplies were still very limited. The committee weighed scientific evidence about who is most at risk of getting very sick or dying from Covid-19, as well as ethical questions, such as how best to ensure equal access among different races and socioeconomic groups.

Although the committee’s recommendations are nonbinding, states usually follow them; in this case, the committee suggests that states might consider expanding to additional priority groups “when demand in the current phase appears to have been met,” “when supply of authorized vaccine increases substantially” or “when vaccine supply within a certain location is in danger of going unused.”

Dr. Kevin Ault, an obstetrician at the University of Kansas Medical Center who serves on the advisory committee that came up with the C.D.C. guidelines, said that it was reasonable for states to start vaccinating new groups before finishing others, but that they should be careful about exacerbating inequities and biting off more than they can chew.

“Obviously if you’re going to vaccinate that group you need to have a well-thought-out plan in hand,” he said, referring to the over-65 population. “Having people camping out for vaccine is less than ideal, I would say.”

He added, “We put a lot of thought and effort into our guidelines, and I think they are good.”

After the first vaccines were given in mid-December, a dichotomy emerged between governors who were adhering precisely to the guidelines and others who moved quickly to populations beyond health care workers and nursing home residents.

Until Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, had threatened to penalize hospitals that provided shots to people who are not health care workers. By contrast, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, traveled to retirement communities around his state to emphasize the importance of getting people 65 and older, who number more than five million there, immunized fast.

“In Florida we’ve got to put our parents and grandparents first,” Mr. DeSantis said at The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community, just before Christmas.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New YorkCredit…Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Gov. Mike DeWine of OhioCredit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Gov. Greg Abbott of TexasCredit…Eric Gay/Associated Press
Gov. Larry Hogan of MarylandCredit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Decisions on how soon to expand eligibility for the shots have not fallen neatly along partisan lines.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, announced Tuesday that he would immediately switch to what he called the “Southwest Airlines model” for vaccine allocation, referring to the airline’s open seating policy. “We’re no longer going to be waiting for all the members of a particular priority group to be completed,” he said, “before we move on to begin the next group in line.”

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, urged patience in a news briefing Tuesday as he declined to estimate when the state would start vaccinating people beyond the first priority group, known as “1a.”

“We’re asking every health department, ‘Don’t go outside 1a, stay within your lane,’” he said, adding about the vaccines, “This is a scarce commodity.”

By Thursday Mr. DeWine had set a date for people 80 and older to start getting the vaccine — Jan. 19 — and said he would phase in everyone 65 and older, as well as teachers, by Feb. 8.

The reasons so many doses received by states have not yet been administered to the first priority group are manifold. The fact that vaccination began around Christmas, when many hospital employees were taking vacation, slowed things. More health care workers are refusing to get the vaccine than many of their employers expected, and some hospitals and clinics received more doses than they needed but felt constrained by state rules from giving them to people outside the first priority groups. Some initially worried they could not even offer leftover doses in open vials to people in lower priority groups and let them go to waste.

Frontline health care workers and people age 65 and older waited to be vaccinated at a sports complex in Fort Myers, Fla., last month.Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

And federal funding for vaccination efforts has been slow to reach states and localities: They got only $350 million through the end of last year, a little more than $1 per resident of the country. The economic rescue package that Congress passed in December included $8 billion for vaccine distribution that state health officials had long sought, but the first tranche of it, about $3 billion, is only now starting to be sent out.

“There was great funding in the development of these products, great funding in the infrastructure to ship them and get them out,” said Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “But then there was no funding provided of meaning for administering the vaccine, which is the last mile of this journey.”

The C.D.C. has recommended that a “1b” group consisting of people 75 and older and certain essential workers, including teachers, corrections officers and grocery store employees, be vaccinated next. The second group is much larger, about 50 million people. And the third recommended priority group — people 65 to 74, anyone 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not already reached — numbers almost 130 million.

Pfizer and Moderna have pledged to deliver enough vaccine doses for 100 million people to each get the two necessary shots by the end of March, and many more in the second quarter. Several other vaccine candidates are far along in the pipeline, and if approved for emergency use here could help ramp up distribution more quickly.

The C.D.C. committee initially considered recommending that a wide range of essential workers get vaccinated before older Americans. Its rationale was that many essential workers are low-wage people of color, who have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus and had limited access to good health care. That sparked a backlash, and several governors, including Mr. DeSantis, quickly made clear they would cater to older people first.

Alex M. Azar, the health and human services secretary, left, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, right, during a vaccination at George Washington University Hospital on Dec. 14.Credit…Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin-Pool

Dr. Mark McClellan, who formerly headed the F.D.A. and now runs Duke University’s health policy center, said that while pushing ahead to vaccinate older people and other particularly vulnerable groups would accelerate the overall effort, “we’re going to be missing a lot of higher-risk individuals along the way.”

“I do worry about that becoming uneven in terms of access,” he said during a press briefing, “with lower-income groups, minority groups maybe in a tougher position if we don’t make it very easy for people in these high-risk groups to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said he was surprised to hear federal officials like Mr. Azar and Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, advocate expanding vaccine access so broadly so soon.

“We didn’t come up with priority populations to slow things down, but because we knew there would be limited numbers of doses,” Dr. Plescia said. “If we try to do this in an equitable, fair way, it’s not going to be as fast as if our only goal is to get vaccine into as many arms as possible.”

Whether or not they are widening access now, governors are ramping up pressure on hospitals to use their allocated doses more quickly. Mr. Cuomo threatened to fine those that did not use their initial allocations by the end of this past week and not send them any more.

Mr. Hogan warned hospitals this past week, “Either use the doses that have been allocated to you or they will be directed to another facility or provider.”

The Elderly vs. Essential Workers: Who Should Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?

The Elderly vs. Essential Workers: Who Should Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?

The C.D.C. will soon decide which group to recommend next, and the debate over the trade-offs is growing heated. Ultimately, states will decide whom to include.

The Department of Homeland Security’s list of essential workers is long and varied, including jobs such as tugboat operators and these grocery store clerks in Brooklyn.
The Department of Homeland Security’s list of essential workers is long and varied, including jobs such as tugboat operators and these grocery store clerks in Brooklyn.Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times
  • Dec. 5, 2020, 10:41 a.m. ET

With the coronavirus pandemic surging and initial vaccine supplies limited, the United States faces a hard choice: Should the country’s immunization program focus in the early months on the elderly and people with serious medical conditions, who are dying of the virus at the highest rates, or on essential workers, an expansive category encompassing Americans who have borne the greatest risk of infection?

Health care workers and the frailest of the elderly — residents of long-term-care facilities — will almost certainly get the first shots, under guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued on Thursday. But with vaccination expected to start this month, the debate among federal and state health officials about who goes next, and lobbying from outside groups to be included, is growing more urgent.

It’s a question increasingly guided by concerns over the inequities laid bare by the pandemic, from disproportionately high rates of infection and death among poor people and people of color to disparate access to testing, child care and technology for online schooling.

“It’s damnable that we are even being placed in this position that we have to make these choices,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, a co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, a national coalition that calls attention to the challenges of the working poor. “But if we have to make the choice, we cannot once again leave poor and low-wealth essential workers to be last.”

Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority. “If your goal is to maximize the preservation of human life, then you would bias the vaccine toward older Americans,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said recently. “If your goal is to reduce the rate of infection, then you would prioritize essential workers. So it depends what impact you’re trying to achieve.”

The trade-off between the two is muddied by the fact that the definition of “essential workers” used by the C.D.C. comprises nearly 70 percent of the American work force, sweeping in not just grocery store clerks and emergency responders, but tugboat operators, exterminators and nuclear energy workers. Some labor economists and public health officials consider the category overbroad and say it should be narrowed to only those who interact in person with the public.

Essential and Frontline Occupations

About 70 percent of workers in the U.S. have jobs that are considered essential. A subset are considered “frontline” workers, meaning their jobs cannot be performed from home. Hover or tap to see each job.



By Matthew Conlen·Note: States may have differing definitions of essential workers. | Sources: Labor Market Information Institute, Council for Community and Economic Research, National Bureau of Economic Research, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

An independent committee of medical experts that advises the C.D.C. on immunization practices will soon vote on whom to recommend for the second phase of vaccination — “Phase 1b.” In a meeting last month, all voting members of the committee indicated support for putting essential workers ahead of people 65 and older and those with high-risk health conditions.

Historically, the committee relied on scientific evidence to inform its decisions. But now the members are weighing social justice concerns as well, noted Lisa A. Prosser, a professor of health policy and decision sciences at the University of Michigan.

“To me the issue of ethics is very significant, very important for this country,” Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a committee member and a pediatrics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said at the time, “and clearly favors the essential worker group because of the high proportion of minority, low-income and low-education workers among essential workers.”

That position runs counter to frameworks proposed by the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and many countries, which say that reducing deaths should be the unequivocal priority and that older and sicker people should thus go before the workers, a view shared by many in public health and medicine.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the C.D.C. director and the nation’s top public health official, reminded the advisory committee of the importance of older people, saying in a statement on Thursday that he looked forward to “future recommendations that, based on vaccine availability, demonstrate that we as a nation also prioritize the elderly.”

Once the committee votes, Dr. Redfield will decide whether to accept its recommendations as the official guidance of the agency. Only rarely does a C.D.C. director reject a recommendation from the committee, whose 14 members are selected by the Health and Human Services secretary, serve four-and-a-half-year terms and have never confronted a task as high in profile as this one.

But ultimately, the decision will be up to governors and state and local health officials. They are not required to follow C.D.C. guidelines, though historically they have done so.

Defining ‘essential’

The drive-through window at a fast food restaurant in Albuquerque. Food service workers have high rates of infection from the coronavirus.
The drive-through window at a fast food restaurant in Albuquerque. Food service workers have high rates of infection from the coronavirus.Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

There are about 90 million essential workers nationwide, as defined by a division of the Department of Homeland Security that compiled a roster of jobs that help maintain critical infrastructure during a pandemic. That list is long, and because there won’t be enough doses to reach everyone at first, states are preparing to make tough decisions: Louisiana’s preliminary plan, for example, puts prison guards and food processing workers ahead of teachers and grocery employees. Nevada’s prioritizes education and public transit workers over those in retail and food processing.

Share of workers in essential and frontline jobs, by state

By Matthew Conlen·Note: States may have different definitions of essential workers. | Sources: Labor Market Information Institute, Council for Community and Economic Research, National Bureau of Economic Research, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

At this early point, many state plans put at least some people who are older and live independently, or people who have medical conditions, ahead of most essential workers, though that could change after the C.D.C. committee makes a formal recommendation on the next phase.

One occupation whose priority is being hotly debated is teaching. The C.D.C. includes educators as essential workers. But not everyone agrees with that designation.

Marc Lipsitch, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, argued that teachers should not be included as essential workers, if a central goal of the committee is to reduce health inequities.

“Teachers have middle-class salaries, are very often white, and they have college degrees,” he said. “Of course they should be treated better, but they are not among the most mistreated of workers.”

Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, disagreed. Teachers not only ensure that children don’t fall further behind in their education, she said, but are also critical to the work force at large.

An empty classroom in Ohio. Public health experts disagree on whether teachers should get a top priority for the vaccine.Credit…Kyle Grillot/Reuters

“When you talk about disproportionate impact and you’re concerned about people getting back into the labor force, many are mothers, and they will have a harder time if their children don’t have a reliable place to go,” she said. “And if you think generally about people who have jobs where they can’t telework, they are disproportionately Black and brown. They’ll have more of a challenge when child care is an issue.”

In September, academic researchers analyzed the Department of Homeland Security’s list of essential workers and found that it broadly mirrored the demographics of the American labor force. The researchers proposed a narrower, more vulnerable category — “frontline workers,” such as food deliverers, cashiers and emergency medical technicians, who must work face to face with others and are thus at greater risk of contracting the virus.

By this definition, said Francine D. Blau, a labor economist at Cornell University and an author of the study, teachers belong in the larger category of essential workers. However, when they work in classrooms rather than remotely, she said, would they fit into the “frontline” group. Individual states categorize teachers differently.

Dr. Blau said that if supplies are short, frontline workers should be emphasized. “These are a subset of essential workers who, given the nature of their jobs, must provide their labor in person. Prioritizing them makes sense given the heightened risk that they face.”

The analysis, a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, is in line with other critics, who say that the list of essential workers is too wide-ranging.

“If groups are too large, then you’re not really focusing on priorities,” said Saad B. Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, who worked on the vaccination frameworks for the W.H.O. and the National Academies.

The essential workers on the federal list make up nearly 70 percent of the American labor force, the researchers said, compared with 42 percent for the frontline workers. Women made up 39 percent of frontline workers and, in certain occupations, far more. Frontline workers’ education levels are lower, as are their wages — on average, just under $22 an hour. The proportion of Black and Hispanic workers is higher than in the broader category of essential workers.

Death vs. transmission

A nursing home resident in Brooklyn being taken to a hospital last April. The C.D.C. recommends that residents of long-term care facilities, along with health care workers, get the very first vaccines.Credit…Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Some health policy experts said that to prioritize preventing deaths rather than reducing virus transmission was simply a pragmatic choice, because there won’t be enough vaccine initially available to make a meaningful dent in contagion. A more effective use of limited quantities, they say, is to save the lives of the most frail.

Moreover, vaccine trial results so far show only that the shots can protect the individuals who receive them. The trials have not yet demonstrated that a vaccinated person would not infect others. Though scientists believe that is likely to be the case, it has yet to be proved.

Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is reasonable to put essential workers ahead of older adults, given their risks, and that they are disproportionately minorities. “Older populations are whiter, ” Dr. Schmidt said. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

But to protect older people more at risk, he called on the C.D.C. committee to also integrate the agency’s own “social vulnerability index.”

The index includes 15 measures derived from the census, such as overcrowded housing, lack of vehicle access and poverty, to determine how urgently a community needs health support, with the goal of reducing inequities.

In a new analysis of the states’ preliminary vaccine plans, Dr. Schmidt found that at least 18 states intended to apply the index. Tennessee, for one, has indicated that it will reserve some of its early allotments for disadvantaged communities.

Still, some people believe it is wrong to give racial and socioeconomic equity more weight than who is most likely to die.

“They need to have bombproof, fact-based, public-health-based reasons for why one group goes ahead of another,” said Chuck Ludlam, a former Senate aide and biotech industry lobbyist who protested putting essential workers ahead of older people in comments to the committee. “They have provided no explanation here that will withstand public scrutiny.”

Blurred lines, many unknowns

Employees of the Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing in Westland, Mich., demonstrated for better pay and protections during an outbreak of Covid-19 in October.Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

Further complicating matters, the different priority groups discussed by the C.D.C. committee are overlapping — many essential workers have high-risk conditions, and some are older than 65. Some states have suggested that they will prioritize only essential workers who come face to face with the public, while others have not prioritized them at all.

Even some people whose allegiance lies with one group have made the case that others should have an earlier claim on the vaccine. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents 1.3 million grocery and food processing workers, said that despite the high rate of infection among his members, he thought that older adults should go first.

“Here’s the thing: Everybody’s got a grandmother or grandfather,” Mr. Perrone said. “And I do believe almost everybody in this country would want to protect them, or their aging parents.”

But Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s top public health official, said he respectfully disagreed, repeating the explanation he had given his in-laws — who are older but in good health and able to socially distance.

He said: “I’ve told them: ‘You know what? I’m sorry, but there are others that I need to get this vaccine to first, so that when you guys get vaccinated, the world you come back into is ready to receive you.’”

All these plans are, of course, unfurling with essential information still unknown.Many state officials said that as on-the-ground realities emerge, they fully expect their plans to evolve.

One uncertainty: given the high rates of apprehension swirling around this vaccine, how many people in the early groups will actually line up for it?

“If a high proportion of essential workers decline to get the vaccine, states will have to quickly move onto the next group anyway,” said Dr. Prosser, the University of Michigan health analyst. “Because once the vaccines arrive, they will have to be used in a certain amount of time before they degrade.”

Additional work by Jugal K. Patel.