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Not everyone will get the exact same COVID-19 vaccine. What to know

Which vaccine you get -- and when you get it -- might depend on factors such as your age, your health and possibly even where you live.

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The race to authorize the first well-tested coronavirus vaccine is over, but it's going to take more than one or two to treat everyone worldwide.

Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The first wave of coronavirus vaccinations is finally underway, and with it comes a heap of questions. Are there different kinds of coronavirus vaccines, and when might you get one? Before vaccines started being administered, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritized which groups should get the very first available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine (the agency continues to update its guidance). However, states aren't required to follow the CDC's lead, and some have already started bucking the federal agency's guidelines in favor of their own priority lists. 

Regardless of who's first in line for a coronavirus vaccine, more are on the way and with them, more questions. Who will get those other vaccines and how soon can you expect to be protected against COVID-19?

With more than a dozen COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in late-stage clinical trials and dozens more not too far behind, it's now evident that not everyone in the world will get the same vaccine. Not only are there different manufacturers -- AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Norovax and so on -- but each vaccine is delivered and works a little differently from the others. Most COVID-19 vaccines come in the form of a shot, but some are patches and others you can swallow as pills. The vast majority require at least two doses, but a few are expected to provide effective immunity after just one.

That means it's possible some vaccines may be reserved for certain groups instead of others based on how the drugs act in the body or how they're delivered. For example, some single-dose vaccines might better serve low population density, rural communities, whereas city dwellers and suburbanites who live closer to more health care providers may get vaccines that require subsequent "booster" doses.

The vast majority of coronavirus vaccines are still under development and the science continues to evolve, so nothing is set in stone just yet. Here, we paint in broad strokes a picture of what the coming vaccine landscape may look like. We'll continue to update this story as new information comes to light. This article is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice.

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Not all COVID-19 vaccines will need to be injected -- some can be delivered without a needle.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Pfizer and Moderna are available now

What they are: Both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines are mRNA, or "genetic," vaccines, an entirely new class of drugs that are unstable at room temperature and must be kept frozen until right before they're dispensed.

When they're coming: Both have been authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration and are currently being administered to priority individuals like health care workers as well as nursing home residents and staff.

Who they might be best for: So far, nursing home staff and residents and front-line health care workers.

Refrigeration: Pfizer's vaccine requires long-term storage colder than Antarctica: minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. It can then be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures of 35 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to five days. Moderna's needs temperatures that a commercial deep freezer could probably handle for long-term storage: minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. It keeps at typical refrigerator temperatures (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 days.

Dosing: Both vaccines require an initial injection followed by a booster shot several weeks later.

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The frist vaccines are being dispensed to priority groups, like front-line health care workers and older adults.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine could be next

What it is: Once the frontrunner in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, the candidate developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has run into a few snags along the way, which have delayed its application for authorization.

When it's coming: The UK approved the vaccine just days before the start of 2021, but the FDA won't approve it in the US until clinical trials wrap up here, possibly as soon as February or March.

Refrigeration: A standard refrigerator could handle it: 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dosing: Two doses, originally intended to be spaced one month apart. Referring to unpublished results of the trial, however, regulators in the UK have authorized a three-month gap between doses, saying the data supports that window as the more effective time scale.

Novavax shows promise, and an advantage

What it is: The Novavax coronavirus vaccine is in late-stage clinical trials. Though it isn't on the road to approval yet, this vaccine shows promise in its high efficacy and its stability in regular refrigeration conditions, versus deep-freeze conditions. That could make it more practical for wider distribution.     

When it's coming: Likely sometime in the first half of 2021.

Refrigeration: Standard refrigeration needs at 39 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dosing: Two doses spaced three weeks apart, plus an adjuvant, which is a second drug that helps the vaccine work better.

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With several different coronavirus vaccines likely to be authorized in 2021, the next challenge will be figuring out which one's best for you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Needle-free vaccine delivery from Inovio

What it is: Instead of a syringe and needle, Inovio's unique system uses an electrical pulse to deliver the vaccine into the body, where it can trigger an immune response.

When it's coming: Inovio just began midstage clinical trials in December, so a summer 2021 release might be a realistic expectation if all goes well with the studies.

Who it might be best for: Children and adults with an intense fear of needles; people in developing areas where safe needle disposal is a challenge.

Refrigeration: Can be kept at room temperature.

Dosing: Two doses, delivered with a patch, four weeks apart.

There's no guarantee that any of the as-yet unauthorized vaccines listed above will be cleared by the FDA for emergency use, nor do any of the timelines take into account the potential for future snags or delays. We'll update this article as new information surfaces, and continue to add more vaccines to this list as it becomes clearer when other manufacturers might apply for authorization, as well as which groups are likely to receive them.

For more information about how vaccines are developed and distributed, as well as the latest in vaccine news, read our coronavirus vaccine explainer. If you have specific questions about a COVID-19 vaccine, we may have already answered them here. Wondering when you can get one? We're tracking coronavirus vaccine priority groups here.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.