When Can You Expect the Vaccine?

This year has been crazy. We went from hearing vague news about a virus in China, to having it in cities in the U.S., to having small-town hospitals overwhelmed with patients. We went from it being a nameless coronavirus to COVID-19. We went from not knowing what to do, to suggested masks, to mask mandates and now seeing ads for masks as stocking stuffers. Through it all, health care professionals have been taking care of people. Essential workers have kept stores open. Mail carriers have kept our packages arriving. Sanitation workers have kept spaces clean. Frontline workers have done their very best to help us all get through this. And scientists have been working ceaselessly to give us more information.

It’s been frustrating to have guidelines change as researchers’ understanding has developed. But that can’t be avoided when something is so new. This week the CDC has changed its policies on how long you have to quarantine if you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. “Close contact” is defined as spending more than 15 minutes closer than six feet away from them over 24 hours. Before, you had to quarantine for 14 days. They now say it’s safe to quarantine for seven days if you have a negative test result or 10 days if you don’t get a test. That’s significantly better than before!

The other big news is that vaccines are finally on the horizon! But now that they are approaching, we’re all left wondering who will be eligible at what times. Moderna has followed Pfizer’s lead and is seeking FDA approval to begin vaccinations in the U.S. later this month. The CDC sat down to figure out the best way to vaccinate everyone who wants the vaccine.

With so many people clamoring for a vaccine, releasing it to the general public would cause shortages. It wouldn’t be the most effective way to get the pandemic under control. People who aren’t at high-risk might get it long before others who need it more. The first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine will be delivered to the government on December 15, and Moderna’s will be delivered on December 22. While 40 million doses are expected by the end of December, it won’t be all at once; it will be in batches. And each person needs two doses a month apart.

The CDC created a roadmap. In December, health care workers, staff and residents in care homes and long-term medical centers will receive the first batches of vaccines. They are “Phase 1.” People who live in, or are being treated inside, the facilities are at very high risk for COVID-19. Their caregivers could endanger them by bringing it into the building. Vaccinating staff also keeps them healthy to continue to provide help and not leave the facilities shorthanded.

In January, we should expect more health care workers, EMTs, firefighters, police and other frontline workers to be eligible for the vaccine. The people who received their first injection in December will receive their second injection in January and be fully vaccinated. January is when older people and people with underlying health conditions will begin to be eligible for the vaccine. But, they will be “Phase 1b,” which means they are eligible only after the frontline workers are vaccinated. The people in this group — older people and folks at high risk — may need to wait a little longer.     

By February, we are expected to be fully in Phase 1b. By then, the CDC said that older people and people who have medical conditions should be able to get it from doctors’ offices and pharmacies. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax all have their vaccine in late-stage trials. They might be seeking approval by then, giving more supplies to the pharmacies. March will also be devoted to high-risk individuals.

After March, it all becomes a bit murky. We don’t know how many different brands of vaccines there will be on the market. While experts are trying to give a timeline, they don’t have a crystal ball. They know who will get it after that, but not the dates. April is expected to be devoted to teachers, retail workers and people who cannot avoid human contact. Whether or not it happens in April, we’ll have to wait and see, but that would be the next group of people, referred to as “Phase 2.”

Healthy adults and children will have to wait until “Phase 3,” which would be, at the very earliest, May. But that is probably overly optimistic. June or later would be a better guess. We’ll hope for the best but plan for the worst.

The government has promised us it will be free. The federal government has already paid the companies and wants to get the country up and running again. It will be available where you get your flu shot.

By the fall, we will hopefully have enough people vaccinated that we can fully reopen the country. Masks, hand washing and social distancing aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Still, we’ll be able to get back to something more normal.
December 03, 2020
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