The broadest vaccination campaign in human history is now underway, but already, a series of setbacks have stymied efforts to provide coronavirus vaccines for up to 330 million people in the US as soon as possible. Limited initial supplies, supply chain blunders and over a dozen states disregarding federal priority guidance have resulted in only slightly more than 3 million people in the US receiving vaccines before the close of 2020. That's less than 1% of the US population and 17 million fewer than the goal of 20 million established by the government late last year. So, where does this all leave you and when can you expect to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
The reality is that most people in the US will have to wait several months at least before they get access to a coronavirus vaccine. Starting in December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a list of priority groups of who should get vaccinated first, with health care workers, and residents and staff of nursing homes at the very top. The CDC's recommendation isn't law, however, and several states have drafted their own priority lists, many of which place teachers and other essential workers as well as older adults of various age groups higher or lower than the CDC's guidelines.
Here's everything we know about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout so far, as well as where you might fall on both current and updated priority lists. (And here's how much you might expect to pay for your COVID-19 vaccine -- spoiler alert: it may not be totally free.) This article was updated recently with new information and is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice.
Read more: How coronavirus mRNA vaccines could end the pandemic and change vaccines forever
COVID-19 vaccine: When most people could get it
Medical experts have generally predicted that most US adults will be cleared to receive the vaccine in the spring, with odds on most of the population having the opportunity by summer. Here's what experts have said:
- "The earliest will likely be in the spring, but more likely over the summer," according to Sandra Albrecht, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and advisor to the Dear Pandemic science blog, in an email to MarketWatch in early December.
- "Sometime by the end of March, the beginning of April that the normal healthy man and woman in the street, who has no underlying conditions, would likely get it," top US disease expert Anthony Fauci told MSNBC on Dec, 14. He added that the US could see the "overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated" by the second quarter of 2021, i.e. midsummer.
- "100% of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine" by June, according to Paul Ostrowski, an official working with Operation Warp Speed, speaking to MSNBC in November.
- Starting in the second quarter of 2021 is when Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has said he expects there to be enough vaccine doses so that anyone who wants a vaccine can get it, according to the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 11.
First in line: Health care workers, nursing home residents and staff
Frontline health care workers who are particularly at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, including the roughly 20 million US doctors, nurses, lab technicians, EMT and hospital staff, are at the top of most state's lists, in accordance with recommendations posted by the CDC. They, along with employees and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes, are prioritized as phase 1a by the CDC as well as by most states. These are the people who are currently receiving vaccinations. So, how many of them are there?
According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, of the 19.7 million health care workers in the US, about 15.5 million work directly with patients. Add to that the 1.2 million residents of nursing homes plus 800,000 residents of assisted living facilities, and there are 17.6 million people to be vaccinated in phase 1a.
Next up: Essential workers, older adults and people with medical conditions
The next priority tiers for coronavirus vaccinations, which the CDC labels 1b and 1c, comprise several other groups. Essential workers who interact with the public (i.e. frontline workers, such as teachers, grocery store clerks and transit workers) and adults over age 75 make up phase 1b. Then, phase 1c includes adults older than 65, people aged 16 to 74 with underlying medical conditions, and other essential (nonfrontline) workers in finance, information technology and media.
Phase 1b or 1c is where about half the states begin to deviate from the CDC in one or more of the following ways: moving the age for older adults down to 65; prioritizing essential workers over older adults; putting older adults and people with underlying medical conditions above essential workers; and in one state, North Carolina, prioritizing people with preexisting conditions above both older adults and essential workers.
The CDC estimates there are about 87 million essential workers -- a number that appears to include jobs that are both frontline and not. The agency also figured on at least 53 million adults aged 65 and older as well as over 100 million adults with high-risk medical conditions. All told, phases 1a, 1b and 1c represent over 195 million people, or about 60% of the US population.
Here's a breakdown of the full CDC priority list, in order:
- Phase 1a (KFP's estimate: 17.6 million): Health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. Currently vaccinating.
- Phase 1b (CDC's estimate: 49 million): Frontline essential workers and people aged 75 years and older. Some states may begin vaccinating in the next week or two.
- Phase 1c (CDC's estimate: 129 million): People aged 65-74 years, people aged 16-64 years with underlying medical conditions and other essential workers. (Hard to say at this point when this phase will begin.)
When will children receive COVID-19 vaccines?
Short answer: Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel has said he expects his company's vaccine will be authorized for use in kids by summertime. So far, Moderna is the first and only company to announce plans to study a coronavirus vaccine in children.
Pfizer's vaccine has been only approved for emergency use by people aged 16 and above. Children under 16 years old will not be eligible to receive the vaccination at this stage. You can read more about kids and the COVID-19 vaccine here.
How many vaccine doses does the US currently have? How many have been administered?
The US has received about 21 million doses of coronavirus vaccine as of Jan. 5, comprising similar vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna, which is enough to vaccinate just over 10 million Americans, as each recipient needs two doses. That's not even enough to vaccinate everyone in the state of Georgia, much less the more than 330 million people living in the US. As of Jan. 7, almost 5.5 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
More doses should arrive in the next several months, but it still won't be enough
Looking ahead, the US has secured a total of 200 million doses from Pfizer, or enough to vaccinate a little under one-third of the population, but the contract stipulates that Pfizer has until June 30 to deliver 170 million of those doses, with the remaining 30 million to be supplied by July 31.
The US government's contract with Moderna also secures 200 million doses, with the company promising to deliver 20 million doses in December 2020 and another 80 million by the end of March. Moderna has guaranteed delivery of the final 100 million doses by the end of June.
If both companies are able to adhere to their projected timelines (so far they haven't), the US would have 400 million doses from just them by August, or enough to vaccinate about 60% of the total population.
How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine could the US get in total?
The US has also contracted with vaccine maker AstraZeneca to reserve 300 million doses, but delivery was set to begin in October 2020, which it hasn't. A series of delays has pushed possible US authorization of that drug into the new year (the UK authorized it Dec. 30) while the FDA waits for clinical trials to wrap up here.
Two other companies with coronavirus vaccine candidates nearing the end of clinical trials -- Novavax and Johnson & Johnson -- have contracted with the US to provide 100 million doses each. Altogether, if and when the contracts with all five companies are fulfilled, the US will have received a total of 900 million doses, or enough to vaccinate 1.3 times the US population. However, well over half of those doses are set to come from companies whose experimental vaccines have yet to be -- and may never be -- authorized in the US.
Read more: Should you get vaccinated for COVID-19 more than once?
Now that vaccines are finally here, when will life go back to normal?
Infection rates in the US skyrocketed over the holidays, as have COVID-19-related deaths. As of Jan. 7, there have been nearly 21.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and a staggering 363,500 deaths. More than one in 1,000 Americans has now died from COVID-19. Now that vaccines have rolled out, the country and the world are starting to shift course, but it's going to take a while.
One of the key advisors on President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 task force, Dr. Michael Osterholm, has recommended a nationwide lockdown in the US for four to six weeks to help contain the rapidly spreading virus. President Donald Trump said in November there would be no lockdown under his administration.
Experts agree that people who leave their households will need to continue to wear masks, avoid crowds, maintain social distancing and practice regular hand washing until further notice.
Whether COVID-19 vaccines will be effective at stopping the spread of the coronavirus will depend a lot on how our bodies build immunity to the disease. Here's what we know so far about whether you can get COVID-19 more than once. Testing is also key to slowing the coronavirus' spread -- learn about a device that can produce COVID-19 test results in under 90 minutes. And read up on how all of these issues and more affect Biden's plan to fight COVID-19.
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.