Who will be the first to get coronavirus vaccinations?

who will get covid vaccinations first
Photo via Jernej Furman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The last several months have seen the announcement of multiple effective coronavirus vaccine candidates. This is great news for a world crippled by the pandemic, but not everyone can be first in line once the vaccines are widely available. Since there won’t be enough vaccines to go around immediately, who will get the COVID-19 vaccinations first?

The vaccine produced by Pfizer is expected to be the first to receive authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, with the Moderna vaccine close behind. Pfizer has said it intends to produce enough of its vaccine for around 12.5 million Americans by the end of 2020. That is approximately 3.7% of the U.S. population. Even with the hopeful addition of Moderna’s product, the amount of vaccine available will likely pale vastly in comparison to the overall population. At most, there will likely only be enough vaccines for 22.5 million Americans by January.

So who will get the first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations? And how long will it take the rest of us to receive a vaccine?

While no clear, definitive answers exist yet, there are a few known factors that go into the decision. Those who need immunization the most—the elderly population and those with underlying health conditions—will likely be first in line. CNET reported that location will also factor in, as citizens of rural areas may need only a single-dose vaccine while residents of more urban areas may require “subsequent ‘booster’ doses.”

Until Pfizer or Moderna receives FDA authorization, we can’t get a full picture of who will be the first to get a COVID vaccine. Based on early information and what we know thus far about immunization, however, we can draw some conclusions. 

Once a vaccine is approved, the government intends to distribute doses within 24 hours, according to a Health and Human Services official. The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be authorized in December, at which point it will begin distribution to front-line healthcare workers and high-risk individuals. Also on the list of those who will likely receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are essential employees, people with underlying medical conditions, older adults, and nursing home residents. In some cases, children also could be near the front of the line.

If you are not among any of these groups, chances are good that you’ll have a longer wait before a vaccine is available for you. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, told Good Morning America that the average American can anticipate a vaccine sometime in the summer of 2021. 

While some may question the logic in inoculating essential workers and healthcare workers rather than those at the highest risk, there is a good reason. The goal here is to vaccinate those at most risk of further spreading the virus, rather than those most likely to die from it. The hope is that if the most likely spreaders are no longer a threat, the spread of the virus will be far easier to control.  

States will ultimately be free to distribute their allotted vaccines however they choose, but reportedly most are expected to follow these thought processes. 

There are several lingering questions about the vaccines, including how effective they will be, how long they will provide immunity for, and if they will be less effective among certain age groups. These questions will be answered over time, as more of the population gradually get vaccinated and we learn more about the virus.

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Sources: CNET, Good Morning America, New York Times, Scientific American 

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