When can you get the COVID vaccine? Here’s what we know so far

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After months of hope and anticipation, the COVID-19 vaccines are finally available: one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna. Those desperately needed shots have arrived just in time for the New Year, but things aren’t quite going to plan, and if you ask when you’ll be offered a vaccination against the virus that is claiming up to 4,000 lives a day in the USA, we are sorry to say that there is no simple answer to your perfectly simple question.

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“Information [on the COVID-19 vaccine] is released state by state,” said Anjali Kataria, founder and CEO of Mytonomy and former consultant and senior adviser to the FDA. “Each has a different approach, but all are likely to vaccinate in phases.”

At present, most states have rolled out the first phase, which involves administering vaccines to “healthcare workers, first responders and the most at-risk seniors – such as those in nursing homes,” said Kataria. The next phase is likely to include those ages 75 and older and those with high-risk conditions, per CDC guidelines. But, as Kataria pointed out, the criteria will be different from state to state. “The CDC has general information on its website with guidelines on who should be vaccinated first.” Phase 1a will cover healthcare workers, followed by phase 1b, which covers essential workers such as police, firefighters, food workers, teachers and grocery store employees, as well as people aged 75 years and over. Phase 1c includes people ages 65-74, people ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers.

While this phased state-by-state approach may seem disorganized, especially in light of the fact that some states are further along in the phases than others (you can see your state’s progress via the Washington Post and New York Times who are tracking vaccinations), which is why the feds signed us up.

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“That’s how the distribution was set up by the current leaders of the federal government,” Kataria said. “They took a per capita, per state approach. They left it to the states to determine the order of vaccination and distribution.

There were significant disparities between state deployments. On December 31, 2020, The New York Times reported that in Florida, less than a quarter of the coronavirus vaccines delivered had been used, despite a crowd of elderly people gathered waiting for injections. At that time, Georgia had distributed less than 14% of its doses; Kansas less than 11%; But West Virginia had distributed 48% of its doses, and South Dakota led with 48% of its doses distributed. To their credit, the cast is, as Kataria calls it, “a Herculean effort.”

“There are limited quantities of each vaccine available and more are in production,” Kataria said. “While we hear 2 to 3 million doses, we are a country of 300 million people, so it comes in big waves. Then there is the challenge of getting it into the arms of patients, and that requires coordination and planning.

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Making the vaccine as widely available as it needs to be “will take patience, organization and participation,” Kataria said. “At this point, experts don’t know what percentage of people should get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.”

What is most important to know right now is that the vaccines we have (limited as their availability is right now) is that they are safe and effective.

“I feel very lucky to have at least two vaccines so far that are over 50% effective and approved for use,” Kataria said. “In fact, the first two are well above 90% efficiency. Results from large-scale trials have shown high efficacy. So that’s great.

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It is also important at this time to move away from the “fake news” about the vaccine that is seeping from so many corners of the internet.

“There’s quite a bit of misinformation starting to pop up,” Kataria said. “If people are worried or want to understand more information, there are a number of reliable sources and one of them is the Mytonomy content that we usually create for hospitals but have made public.” The video “Fact Check: Answers to COVID-19 Questions” is available for free in English and Spanish on Vimeo and YouTube. The video explains how vaccines work, why they are safe, and what to discuss with your doctor before your vaccine is given.

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles via Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, The Atlantic, Vice and The New Yorker. She is a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray, received rave reviews from Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and has been published in the US, UK, France and Russia – well let no one know what happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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