Who first in the vaccine line? More boomers vs. essential workers
COVID-19 and the debates about vaccination priorities.
A COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
A COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. [ DAMIAN DOVARGANES | AP ]
Published Feb. 8, 2021

Welcome to a series where a millennial and a baby boomer debate (and sometimes agree on) the issues that matter to you.

The merits of being, ahem, old(er)

I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (“Make mine a Pfizer!”) on Wednesday, knowing there were more deserving candidates.

To all appearances, I am in fine fettle. I have good access to medical care. And my job does not put me at particular risk of catching the COVID (although an unhappy reader wrote recently that he hopes I will “drop dead in my sleep.”) But I am of a certain age — 66, actually — which qualified me for the vaccine in Florida regardless of other circumstances.

If I got to choose, I would have been happy to pick someone else to get my shot. As a high school teacher, my wife Karyn rubs elbows with hundreds of students, which puts her at far greater risk than a guy who goes to an office in a mostly empty building. But she is 62, a mere child, and therefore had to wait. At least she is less likely to catch it from me — or give it to me.

From my privileged place near the front of the queue, I say to all the younger folks who are still waiting: I hope profoundly that the vaccine will be abundant, that your turn will come soon, and that we can finally be rid of this scourge that descended upon us a year ago.

In the meantime, this baby boomer gratefully accepts one more benefit of birth in the early 1950s. When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, I got mine.

-Paul Tash, Times chairman and CEO

Prioritize essential workers

Every time I walk into a grocery store in the middle of this pandemic, I think the same thing: It must be hard to be an essential worker.

If my weekly trips to the grocery store fill me with anxiety, then I can only imagine what it must be like to work there every day. A constant brush with COVID-19 is practically unavoidable.

That’s why it’s been so surprising to watch Florida’s vaccine rollout — a system that after frontline healthcare personnel now prioritizes age over almost any other factor. In late December, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order placing those 65 and older in the first phase of vaccinations for the general public.

It’s true that people over 65 years old have suffered most of the COVID deaths. That cannot be overlooked while making vaccination plans. But data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 50- to 64-year-olds have a four times higher chance of hospitalization and 30 times higher chance of death than those ages 18 to 29. And a much higher percentage of 50-64 year olds are still working — many of them in essential jobs — than the over-65 group. And while age is one of the best predictors of someone’s COVID-19 outcome, factors like pre-existing conditions, race and gender all have an impact. In contrast to Florida’s plan, the CDC recommends that many essential workers including police officers and grocery store cashiers be vaccinated in the same phase that includes everyone 75 or older.

So should someone over 65 get their second dose and walk around feeling rightfully invincible to the pandemic when essential employees who spend every day in the line of fire may have to wait months to get their first dose? No. It’s better for everyone if those essential workers move up in the vaccine line, especially the ones in the 50-64 year old age group.

Even getting essential workers a first dose would help. Research from Moderna shows that its vaccine could have as much as 80 percent efficacy after one dose. A Pfizer study showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has as much as 52 percent efficacy 12 days after the first dose.

The next time I check out at the grocery store, I’d feel much more comfortable knowing that the cashier had been immunized. It would be safer for them and safer for all of us.

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— Elizabeth Djinis, freelance journalist and former Times editorial writer