COVID-19 vaccination: Where does the dental profession stand?
LEIPZIG, Germany: After months of hoping and waiting, the news finally broke at the end of 2020 that a number of vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 had been developed and would be rolled out worldwide as soon as possible. However, although every effort is being made to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated against the virus, resources are scarce, and various logistical problems are slowing down the process considerably. This also raises the question of priority and who should receive the coveted shot first. This article outlines where the dental profession stands in this scenario.
In a global comparison, it quickly becomes clear that dentists and their teams are high on the list of systemically important professions and should receive a vaccination sooner rather than later in the process. Like most medical professions, they are irreplaceable when it comes to providing seamless healthcare in society. Nevertheless, the current status varies from country to country, and dental professionals have to await their turn, often not knowing when that will be.
Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advocated that dental personnel should receive priority access. “Early vaccine access is critical to ensuring the health and safety of this essential workforce of approximately 21 million people, protecting not only them but also their patients, families, communities and the broader health of our country,” wrote CDC in its statement. The ADA continues its efforts to lobby Congress and administrative bodies to protect the dental profession during this pandemic. Even though vaccines doses have been sent out to all 50 states, the “final authority rests with the individual states”, a fact sheet released by the association explained.
For example, in North Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services has moved dental professionals out of Phase 1a and into Phase 2. An online petition has been launched in the hope of reversing this decision because of the potential delay in vaccination for dental professionals, although they have been classified as one of the professions most in danger of contracting SARS-CoV-2 owing to the common use of aerosol-generating procedures.
As reported by various Canadian news websites, the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) wants the provincial government to consider including dental staff in the first round of vaccinations. ODA President Dr Lesli Hapak said in a media release: “Ontario’s dentists are in direct risk of contracting COVID-19 and need to be on the priority list of healthcare professionals to be vaccinated early.” Despite the possibility that immunised dentists could help ease the burden on the medical system, the province has not yet released information on who will be next in line.
Interim advice provided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that “the first priorities for the current COVID-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of COVID-19 mortality and the protection of health and social care staff and systems”. National Health Service (NHS) England has confirmed “that all dentists, teams and support staff—in both NHS and private settings—will receive priority access to the COVID vaccine”, the British Dental Association writes. Details on when that will happen have not yet been released.
According to Dentistry Online editor Gaby Bissett, “current government plans mean dental teams should be offered the first dose by mid-February”. Apparently, this information was forwarded from a source close to the British government. Especially in the country’s capital, London, the situation has dramatically worsened owing to a new variant of the virus. For this reason, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, has declared a major incident. In the meantime, The Guardian reported that seven new mass vaccination centres have opened across England but that it could take weeks before this measures shows a positive effect.
In Germany, the German Dental Association (BZÄK), the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Dentists (KZBV) and the German Society of Dentistry and Oral Medicine (DGZMK) have also pushed for dental professionals to be considered among the first recipients of the new vaccine. In a joint letter addressed to the Ständigen Impfkommission am Robert Koch-Institut (The standing vaccination committee of the Robert Koch Institute) (STIKO), BZÄK, KZBV and DGZMK emphasised the importance of the dental profession. The letter stated: “The dental profession has fulfilled its medical and ethical obligation by keeping dental practices open throughout the pandemic. This should continue to be the case. [...] We therefore welcome the assignment of a high priority for vaccinations for employees in dental practices and expressly request that this recommendation be implemented.”
It is expected that the respective administrations will come to a final decision shortly. However, who will ultimately receive the vaccination and when they will receive it remains a decision for the federal states.
Over the course of the pandemic, Australia has had much better control over the COVID-19 outbreak compared with the other countries mentioned above because of earlier and stricter lockdowns and travel bans. In November 2020, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt confirmed that the first batch of the vaccine would be released in the first half of 2021 and that dentists would be included among the first recipients. “This development is a direct result of the ADA [Australian Dental Association] working closely with Minister 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 in a media release. The vaccine is expected to be rolled out in March.
By 13 January 2021, the World Health Organization had reported a total of 90,054,813 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,945,610 related deaths.