High-risk woman won't be eligible to get COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 10:51 AM, Aug 27, 2020

Chanel White has missed going to karaoke bars, but when it comes to being in quarantine, she’s used to it.

“Life hasn’t been too different from what it normally was for me,” Chanel White said.

In 2011, White was diagnosed with systemic sclerosis, an auto-immune disease.

“Basically my body just sees myself, my tissue, my organs as something foreign and something that should be attacked,” White said.

She gets nutrients through a feeding tube and takes a lot of different medications. She’s also considered high risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Pneumonia is basically the number one cause of death for people with my condition.”

Based on a report by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, White should be among those who get the novel coronavirus vaccine as soon as it’s available.

“Ethics is the essence of this,” Dr. Eric Toner said.

Dr. Toner is a Senior Scholar with Johns Hopkins. Who gets the vaccine first will ultimately be up to the Department of Health and Human Services, but Dr. Toner says the report is meant to offer an ethical framework to help prioritize who gets the vaccine and when.

“First of all it’d be health care workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients. That seems pretty straight forward and non-controversial,” Dr. Toner said.

Also in the first tier would be people who are essential to the pandemic response – like those doing the vaccinating, people on the front lines of public health and people working in nursing homes.

That first tier would also include the men and women who have helped maintain some normalcy during the pandemic.

“Think of front-line transportation workers like bus drivers, think about people working grocery stores, people who work in food production, people who keep the lights on and the water running,” Dr. Toner said.

White would be in tier one, but her medical situation is quite complicated.

“I right now can’t get vaccines,” White said.

She says the treatment she’s receiving heavily reduces her immune response so her body doesn’t attack itself. So depending on the type of vaccine, she would either develop COVID-19, or the vaccine wouldn’t do anything for her.

“It’s a weird circumstance because I don’t think the world thinks a lot about people like us. They just think ‘oh the sick people are especially going to need this,’” White said.

Dr. Toner says there is an alternative solution.

“Vaccinate everyone around them. So vaccinate their families, their caregivers,” Dr. Toner said.

“Clearly herd immunity can save an immeasurable number of lives. And so really for someone like me that really is my best shot,” White said.

Getting enough people who have an immune response to the vaccine will depend on its effectiveness.

“We are ensuring that the vaccine is safe and we’re ensuring that the vaccine is effective. And we will try to get it out as fast as we can, of course, but we won’t cut any corners,” Dr. Toner said.

For now, White is choosing to focus on the positive.

"Hopefully the world will come out better because of this and empathic to their fellow man. But I do hope for a future where I can go to karaoke again,” White said.