States and the federal government recently began rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers across the country. Health plans, particularly those that serve high-risk individuals, may be ideally situated to coordinate care and update members on vaccination opportunities, experts tell AIS Health.

The FDA on Dec. 11 authorized emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech in individuals age 16 and older. Then the agency on Dec. 18 authorized Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use in people 18 years or older.

Health care workers and nursing home residents have been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the first group (phase 1a) to receive the vaccine.

“I think the paradigm of changing tires on a moving bus applies to this venture,” remarks Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP). “We certainly support the idea of getting the vaccine to front-line health care workers and the very most vulnerable populations, such as nursing home residents, first. So CDC is off to a good start.”

But ACAP, which is composed of 77 not-for-profit safety net health plans covering Medicaid, marketplace and MA enrollees, is concerned about other vulnerable seniors — such as those who are very frail or homebound and likely dual eligible — who are not part of that first round. “We need to think about them in the next wave,” Murray tells AIS Health via email. “We also need to consider how most equitably to distribute the vaccine.”

In a preliminary analysis — or snapshot — of fee-for-service Medicare claims and Medicare Advantage encounter data from Jan. 1 to Sept. 12, 2020, CMS reported 1.19 million COVID-19 cases and 332,672 related hospitalizations among all 62.3 million beneficiaries. That’s a rate of 517 hospitalizations per 100,000 lives. The data puts into stark clarity what is already suspected about the virus: those at the highest risk of developing severe complications are older, lower income, have preexisting conditions and (with the exception of Asian beneficiaries) are more likely to be racial minorities.