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Covid-19 vaccine US schedule: when can I get it?

Two Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the US but it will still be several months before most of the population is inoculated. Here's the timeline.

Covid-19 vaccine US schedule: when can I get it?
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP

Two Covid-19 vaccines were deemed effective, safe and approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration this month – the Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine was authorized for emergency use for persons over the age of 16 on 11 December and the vaccine developed by Moderna was approved for over-18s just one week later. Sandra Lindsaya critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center became the first American to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Monday 14 December. Several of her colleagues were the next to be vaccinated – in line with a large-scale, phased program to inoculate the whole nation, starting with frontline health workers, members of the armed forces and high-risk, vulnerable Covid-19 patients as priorities. Governors and jurisdictions will ultimately decide who will receive the vaccines.

While Warp Speed had hoped that over 20 million doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will have been delivered to over 600 sites across the country by New Year’s Eve, the actual vaccination process is advancing at a much slower pace than the government had anticipated. According to figures issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US is vaccinating, on average, just 200,000 people a day. Many states have used just a small portion of their vaccine allocation with some citing storage issues – the Pfizer doses are kept in thermal storage units which need to be filled with dry ice every five days to maintain the vaccine’s shelf life. Once thawed, the Pfizer vials cannot be refrozen. Maryland has used little over 10% of its stock of the vaccine, according to government data, while at the other end of the scale, North and South Dakota and West Virginia have already gone through more half of theirs.

Who will get vaccinated first?

Approximately 2.1 million Americans have received the vaccine so far. Because the initial supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses is limited, the CDC is prioritizing who gets vaccinated first. Phase 1a of the vaccination program will see the vaccine given to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents starting from mid-December and running to the end of January 2021.

Vaccination Phases 1b and 1c began on 22 December and focus on various different groups. Phase 1b includes essential frontline workersemergency services (police, fire fighters, ambulance crew), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, US Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers.). Also in Phase 1b are people aged 75 years and older who were not considered high-risk and therefore not inoculated during Phase 1a.

Phase 1c will continue through to the end of January and will centre on the next three groups - people aged 65—74 years who are at high risk of hospitalization, illness or death from Covid-19; people aged 16—64 years with underlying medical conditions which increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from Covid-19 and other essential workers – those who work in transportation and logistics, food supply and distribution, construction workers and those working in finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety and public health.

US aiming for herd immunity by the end of 2021

By the end of February, when both vaccines become more widely available, the vaccination program will be expanded. Around 50 million Americans will have received the vaccine during the first three phases. By May, all of the priority groups will have been inoculated and the vaccine will be made available to young, healthy members of the general public. This phase of the vaccination program is likely to last two to three months so that by September, most adults in the US will have access to the vaccine if they want it. If all goes to plan, as Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts, the US could achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021 – if over 75% of the population are inoculated.