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Dental teams have been included in plans for the first phase of vaccination programmes in Australia and the US state of California. (Image: Rose Makin/Shutterstock)

Dentists join queue for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines

By Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International
December 11, 2020

LEIPZIG, Germany: UK health authorities have administered the first doses of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and public health bodies around the world are now authoring policy documents that will determine which groups will be prioritised in national vaccination strategies. Currently, dental staff in Australia and the US state of California are set to be included in the first phase of local vaccination plans.

The California Dental Association (CDA) confirmed in December that dental teams will be included in the first phase of the populous state’s SARS-CoV-2 vaccination programme. California is set to receive over 327,000 doses of the vaccine being distributed by Pfizer in mid-December. US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech asked the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorisation for its vaccine in late November and the agency’s vaccine advisory committee was set to make a decision on 10 December. The first doses will potentially be administered the following day. CDA said in a statement that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities will receive the first doses, followed by other frontline healthcare workers—including dental teams.

This news from the state is an important recognition of dental teams’ priority in providing care to their patients,” CDA commented.

Guidelines published by the California Department of Public Health show that dental teams in the state have been included in the third tier of the vaccination strategy. Tier three is comprised of healthcare providers who work in settings that have been classified as posing lower risk of infection. “Dental professionals have been placed in this category due to the safety measures that dentistry has implemented since the onset of the pandemic and because there have been no documented COVID-19 transmissions during the provision of dental care,” the CDA statement read.

COVID-19 vaccine plan in Australia includes dentists

According to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), dentists in the country will be among the first recipients of the vaccine being distributed locally by Pfizer. The association said in a November statement that the first doses will be available to the elderly, to aged care workers, and to frontline healthcare workers such as dentists, doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

This development is a direct result of the ADA working closely with [Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt’s] office and advocating on behalf of Australia’s dentists to ensure that they and the entire dental team are afforded the protection the vaccine provides,” the ADA said.

UK vaccine recommendations leave dentists hanging

It remains unclear whether UK dentists will be among the frontline healthcare workers to receive early vaccination in the country. Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, told Dental Tribune International in early December that he was not sure of where dental care teams would fall in the hierarchy of the country’s vaccine strategy. “As one of the professions most hit by the early stages of the pandemic and struggling to operate normally, we would hope that they are classified for early receipt of the vaccine along with other essential healthcare workers,” he said.

Dentists were not directly mentioned, however, in an independent report on the priority groups for vaccination in the UK that was published on 2 December by the Department of Health and Social Care. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised in the report that the priorities of a vaccination programme in the UK should be the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 mortality and the protection of healthcare and social care systems and staff. It did not specify whether the frontline healthcare workers that would be prioritised included dental teams, and it said that occupational vaccination outside of the frontline healthcare and social care classification should be based on the risk of exposure and mortality by occupation.

In terms of preventing SARS-CoV-2 mortality, JCVI recommended a priority list for vaccination that was based primarily on age. At the top of the list of nine groups were residents of aged care homes and those providing their care. Second were those aged 80 years and over and frontline healthcare and social care workers, followed by anyone aged 75 years and over. Ninth on the list were all those aged 50 years and over. JCVI said that it estimated that the nine groups represented around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19 in the UK.

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