Two federal agencies oversee the way vaccines reach the U.S. public. But only one of them guides physicians on the best way to use those vaccines.
That agency is the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the way private companies develop and produce vaccines.)
“[ACIP] develops recommendations … for the routine administration [of vaccines], for the schedule, for the appropriate timing, dosing, and it kind of advises us about when there are contraindications, or when to take special precautions,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist C. Mary Healy, MD, a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force.
ACIP recommendations are not regulations, but the medical community follows them closely because they represent standards of care, she says. ACIP’s recommendations are developed by experts in infectious disease, public health, epidemiology, and other fields.
Work groups made up of these volunteer experts – including Dr. Healy – study all available data about a vaccine on behalf of ACIP. For each vaccine, they consider the balance of benefits and side effects, the quality of the evidence, economic data, and the interests of anyone tied to the vaccine.
The work group then writes recommendations that are passed on to the full committee, which discusses and votes on them in a public meeting. The recommendations become official when they’re published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
ACIP work groups have met more frequently to evaluate the many Covid-19 vaccines being developed, Dr. Healy says.
“Especially in this time when we’re going to have vaccines available on an accelerated schedule, it’s going to be more important than ever for physicians to understand how the decisions are arrived at – that no steps have been omitted – and to communicate that with their patients,” she said.