It’s hard to believe that it was less than a year ago that Chinese authorities first revealed an outbreak of a new “pneumonia-like” disease spreading in the industrial city of Wuhan.

In just a few months, what was identified as a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, had spread around the world, eventually infecting 64.2 million people, including 13.8 million in the United States. It has killed 272,000 Americans so far, 40,000 in the month of November alone, a month that averaged nearly one death per minute.

Most people have not been infected by the virus, but virtually everyone has been affected by it. Millions of us are unemployed, businesses have shut their doors and everything from the visiting policy in nursing homes to the way kids go to kindergarten have been changed in ways that no one could have predicted. And now, the latest surprise twist of 2020 is that the end may be in sight.

Two vaccines are in the final stages of the emergency approval process and the federal government could start distributing doses by the middle of this month. Maine’s first doses of the Pfizer vaccine could arrive later this month.

Before we can celebrate, however, we will have to come to terms with a basic fact. There are many more people who need to be vaccinated than there will be doses of the vaccine. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has anticipated this in its vaccination plan, which identifies priorities for who should get the vaccine first.

Like the proposed federal guidelines approved this week, the Maine CDC identifies frontline health care workers and first responders to get the first vaccines, along with people most likely to die if they are infected: older adults living in congregate care settings like nursing homes and people with certain underlying health conditions.

The next phase would include people whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure, such as teachers and school staff, as well as incarcerated people and people who work in jails and prisons. They would be followed in a third phase that includes children and essential workers not already vaccinated, and then a fourth phase that would include everyone else.

The problem is in the numbers. There are 35,000 in-patient health care workers in Maine; 22,000 people who work in long-term care facilities; 5,800 nursing home patients, and at least 6,000 first responders, all of whom would qualify for vaccines in the first phase. Maine has received good news that its first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be between 30,000 and 36,000 doses, But since everyone will need two doses, this first batch would not reach everyone in the first phase.

Since this life-saving medicine will have to be rationed, at least in its early stages, transparency is vitally important. It’s good that the state has published its vaccination plan so everyone understands where they stand in its distribution.

The coronavirus may have affected everyone, but it hasn’t affected us all equally. People of color, who are overrepresented in jobs in essential industries, are more likely to be infected with coronavirus and have worse health outcomes when they get sick. People who have underlying health conditions are at greater risk of severe illness or death than people who don’t. It’s important that the people who face the greatest risk are the ones who are protected first.

COVID-19 has exposed the unfairness built into our health care system. How we work our way out of this pandemic will go a long way toward repairing it.

Reprinted from The Portland Press Herald