ADA urges dentists be offered early access for SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

Washington — Dentists are essential health care workers who should be afforded early access to a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine when one becomes available, ADA Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin told a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine panel Sept. 2.

The panel is developing a plan for equitable distribution of the vaccine, which would offer protection against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“There is little doubt that there will be a high demand for a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine once one becomes available — and doses of the vaccine will likely have to be rationed until production can meet the demand,” Dr. O’Loughlin stated. “We are therefore pleased that the National Academies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are looking ahead to ensure the most vulnerable at-risk groups — including dentists and other essential health care workers, high-risk Latino and Black communities, and the medically compromised elderly — are allowed early access to the vaccine.”

The NIH and the CDC asked the National Academies, through the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus, to draft a framework to inform future decisions about how to allocate the initial supply of the vaccine.

Dr. O’Loughlin’s remarks emphasized that dentistry is essential care. The ADA Board of Trustees adopted an ad interim policy stating dentistry is essential health care in July to help guide advocacy for the dental profession during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The vital role that dentists play in maintaining overall health and screening for systemic disease is critical to the health of the public,” Dr. O’Loughlin said.

Dr. O’Loughlin noted that 15% of the American public did not feel comfortable visiting the dentist without a medical breakthrough, according to a poll.

“Early access to a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will reassure this group of patients that it is safe to resume dental appointments and will furthermore reassure dental health care practitioners who have reservations about delivery of dental care,” she said. “It will [thus] reduce the risk that patients with a preventable or treatable oral disease will allow it to progress to an irreversible state.”

Dr. O’Loughlin closed her remarks by thanking the National Academies for recognizing dentists and their teams as essential health care workers.

“We appreciate your thoughtful consideration of how to allocate the early supply of the vaccine, and we look forward to working with you, the CDC, and NIH to ensure it is distributed in a way that maximizes the impact on the public’s health,” she said.

Dr. O’Loughlin and ADA President Chad P. Gehani followed up her remarks with a Sept. 4 letter to the National Academies affirming that dentists should be included among those who have early access to a vaccine when available.

“We applaud your thoughtful consideration of how to allocate the early supply of a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine,” Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin wrote. “Counting dentists and their teams among the essential health care workers who should receive Tier-1 access will reduce the occurrence of serious life-changing oral diseases, and possibly even save lives.”