Public Perspectives on COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization

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Sturm College of Law


Vaccine allocation, Disproportionately impacted communities, Health inequities


Importance: As COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues, policy makers are struggling to decide which groups should be prioritized for vaccination. Objective: To assess US adults' preferences regarding COVID-19 vaccine prioritization. Design, Setting, and Participants: This survey study involved 2 independent, online surveys of US adults aged 18 years and older, 1 conducted by Gallup from September 14 to 27, 2020, and the other conducted by the COVID Collaborative from September 19 to 25, 2020. Samples were weighted to reflect sociodemographic characteristics of the US population. Exposures: Respondents were asked to prioritize groups for COVID-19 vaccine and to rank their prioritization considerations. Main Outcomes and Measures: The study assessed prioritization preferences and agreement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine's Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. Results: A total of 4735 individuals participated, 2730 (1474 men [54.1%]; mean [SD] age, 59.2 [14.5] years) in the Gallup survey and 2005 (944 men [47.1%]; 203 participants [21.5%] aged 55-59 years) in the COVID Collaborative survey. In both the Gallup COVID-19 Panel and COVID Collaborative surveys, respondents listed health care workers (Gallup, 93.6% [95% CI, 91.2%-95.3%]; COVID Collaborative, 80.0% [95% CI, 78.0%-81.9%]) and adults of any age with serious comorbid conditions (Gallup, 78.6% [95% CI, 75.2%-81.7%]; COVID Collaborative, 72.9% [95% CI, 70.7%-74.9%]) among their 4 highest priority groups. Respondents of all political affiliations agreed with prioritizing Black, Hispanic, Native American, and other communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (Gallup, 74.2% [95% CI, 70.6%-77.5%]; COVID Collaborative, 84.9% [95% CI, 83.1%-86.5%]), and COVID Collaborative respondents were willing to be preceded in line by teachers and childcare workers (92.5%; 95% CI, 91.2%-93.7%) and grocery workers (85.9%; 95% CI, 84.2%-87.5%). Older respondents in both surveys were significantly less likely than younger respondents to prioritize healthy adults aged 65 years and older among their 4 highest priority groups (Gallup, 23.7% vs 39.1% [χ2= 2160.8; P <001]; COVID Collaborative, 23.3% vs 28.8% [χ2= 5.0198; P =.03]). COVID Collaborative respondents believed the 4 most important considerations for prioritization were preventing COVID-19 spread (78.4% [95% CI, 76.3%-80.3%]), preventing the most deaths (72.1% [95% CI, 69.9%-74.2%]), preventing long-term complications (68.9% [66.6%-71.9%]), and protecting frontline workers (63.8% [95% CI, 61.5%-66.1%]). Conclusions and Relevance: US adults broadly agreed with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine's prioritization framework. Respondents endorsed prioritizing racial/ethnic communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and older respondents were significantly less likely than younger respondents to endorse prioritizing healthy people older than 65 years. This provides reason for caution about COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans that prioritize healthy adults older than a cutoff age without including those younger than that age with preexisting conditions, that aim solely to prevent the most deaths, or that give no priority to frontline workers or disproportionately affected communities.