On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of a COVID-19 vaccine founded by BioNTech company, Pfizer (CDC.gov). The vaccine consists of 2 doses administered 3 weeks apart. The CDC advises that healthcare workers should be the first group to receive the vaccine, alongside nursing home residents/staff. About 21 million healthcare workers are projected to receive the vaccine due to their critical role, and high exposure. Approximately 3 million long-term care facility residents and staff will also be among the first to receive the vaccine because this group accounts for about 40% of the deaths during the pandemic according to an article published by The Washington Post.
Since the vaccine will be limited in supply, the CDC recommends phases of vaccine allocation. Phase 1 is broken into 3 subgroups: Phase 1a, 1b, and 1c. The following is the breakdown for each phase. Phase 1a includes healthcare personnel, and long term care facility residents. Phase 1b will vaccinate essential workers, and Phase 1c is targeted to reach high-risk adults, as well as adults 65+. Ultimately, states will be able to prioritize vaccine distributions regardless of federal guidelines. However, there seems to be a general consensus of prioritization. The White House Coronavirus task force, CDC, and the majority of state officials agree on the recommended high priority groups. To find your state’s vaccination plan, follow this link, and choose your state.
Currently, 40 million vaccines are expected to be available from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of the month. Since two doses are required, this would only vaccinate about 20 million of the 330 million U.S. population. Due to the limited supply, officials recommend further prioritizing healthcare workers. This would include staggering units to receive the vaccine. Personnel with direct contact in emergency departments would be among the first vaccinated, following those that handle infectious material. Once the 40 million doses are exhausted, approximately 5-10 million will be released weekly. CDC distribution officials expect that healthcare workers will be vaccinated within 3 weeks of vaccine distribution.
Former FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, addressed the different goals of the pandemic, “if the goal is to reduce the rate of infection, you would prioritize essential workers…if your goal is to maximize the preservation of human life with a vaccine, then you would bias the vaccine to older Americans.” Therefore, essential workers and older Americans are included in the first phase of distribution. Overall, your age and occupation will determine how quickly the vaccine will become available to you. Typically, younger Americans with low health risks are lower on the list of those prioritized to receive the vaccine.
The question still stands, is the vaccine safe? Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have reported 90% efficacy, and trials have shown no major safety concerns. However, full safety data has not been made available yet. Side effects that have been reported include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle ache, chills, joint pain, and fever. These side effects were more common after the second dose of the vaccine, but are possible after either dose. The federal government has already purchased, “hundreds of millions of doses of each of the vaccines with taxpayer money, and has promised to make them publicly available for free” (The Washington Post). After receiving the vaccine, you will still need to wear a mask and social distance in accordance with CDC guidelines because it will take time before enough of the population is immunized to stop the spread of the virus.
If you are a healthcare worker and want to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, click here. The pandemic has been an unprecedented and stressful time for all of us. Be sure to take time for yourself to destress, and stay safe.