KHN talks about a topic which is very confusing for many people observing the rollout of vaccines: where dentists sit on the Phase One distribution list. Dentists are incredibly important in maintaining our health, not only directly, in terms of looking after our dental needs, but indirectly, in terms of maintaining our overall health. Dentists in Canada and provinces like BC, also have a very face-to-face job, working just eight inches away from their patients’ faces and often their work generates aerosols which can transmit the virus. Take for instance when a dentist uses a high speed drill with a speed of 450,000 miles per hour. A drill of that speed can result in aerosols from the patient’s mouth with a radius of 15 feet around the dentist. Dentistry is as Covid-facing as you can get in the medical profession. Yet, dentists are not always recognized as being in a Covid-facing profession, so that in some states, dentists are given priority, and in others, they are at the bottom of statewide Phase One rollout plans. Dentists in Connecticut, for example, were given the vaccine within the first week of 2021, whereas dentists in Vancouver, BC, are at the bottom of that state’s first phase of the rollout.
In December 2020, the immunization advisory board of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the vaccine rollout plan have healthcare workers inoculated first given the high risks of infection in the course of their work. Yet, many states have chosen to place dentists lower down the order. We have mentioned Massachusetts, other such states include Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas. This is despite the fact that dentists form a unique group among medical professions in that the majority of their work is done with the patients’ mask off. In other states, such as Connecticut whom we mentioned, dentists began receiving their vaccination shots in December. In those states, dentists are recognised as frontline health care workers and have been treated accordingly.
In places like Connecticut, the state created an online system to register health care workers eligible for the vaccine, and contacted those workers to schedule an appropriate time and place to receive the vaccine. This system is similar to that in Canada, where, for example, a dentist in Fairview will be able to arrange when and where a vaccination will take place. Dentists in British Columbia, Canada, for example, will begin to receive the vaccine in February of this year.
In the United States, there have been divergences in timelines from the guidelines given by the vaccination makers, Pfizer and Moderna, driven by the lack of a national immunization strategy. So there really is a sense that regardless of priority groups, where you are determines when you will receive the vaccine, and consequently, dentists are not all being treated the same. So even though the CDC advisory board recommended that dentists be classed as frontline health care workers, many states have not followed that advice.
Finally, classification is not the only problem dentists face: in Florida, dentists are classed as frontline health care workers, but issues of supply have prevented some dentists from getting the vaccine.