COVID-19 vaccines: Experts answer commonly asked questions about availability, timeline

Now that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out at hospitals across the U.S., you may be wondering when your turn is coming, if it hasn’t already. On Jan. 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that states kick off the next phase (1c): vaccinating all Americans over age 65 and those 16 to 64 years old with high-risk health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, according to Medscape.

How much longer until more of the general public will be eligible for the vaccine? Yahoo Life answered some common questions about what you need to know. (Photo: Getty Images)
How much longer will it be until more of the general public will be eligible for the vaccine? Yahoo Life answered some common questions about what you need to know. (Photo: Getty Images)

However, a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) on Jan. 11 found most states (40) are still in phase 1a, which includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, while 10 states and D.C. are in phase 1b, which includes people 75 and older and frontline essential workers. Only one state — Michigan — has started to move to phase 1c.

The KFF report also found that “states are increasingly diverging from CDC guidance,” adding that many states are “moving to include expanded age groups earlier than recommended” by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Yahoo Life asked experts to weigh in on some of the common questions people have about the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine rollouts:

How will people know when they’re eligible for the vaccine?

There are several ways you can find out whether you’re eligible. “There will be a lot of public service announcements from media and state health departments’ websites,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “You can also ask your local hospitals. They will have a general idea of where people fall. Your primary care doctor will also know where each patient falls.”

“Currently, most states are in [phase] 1a or 1b,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network, tells Yahoo Life. However, keep in mind that “different areas move through different phases at different speeds, based on the local availability of vaccine doses,” Dr. Grace Lee, infectious disease specialist at Stanford Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “We hope that with the release of additional doses that we will be able to move more quickly through the vaccination phases.”

How much longer until more of the general public will be eligible for the vaccine?

Although the CDC recommends that the vaccine be administered to specific groups in each phase, “the waves are getting hard to distinguish now,” says Adalja. “We’re kind of doing phase 1a, 1b and 1c together right now.” Adalja explains there will be “less demarcation going forward” between the phases. “We’re already seeing states moving ahead into the other phases and kind of doing it all simultaneously,” Adalja says. “It’s really going to depend on your state [since] states decide how they’re going to implement it.”

While Lee says she hopes the U.S. can enter the next phase “as soon as possible,” she adds that it “depends on how quickly we can move through phases 1a, 1b and 1c.”

However, Parikh says, “Hopefully in four to eight weeks more people will be eligible. Also, you may be eligible soon based on other medical conditions you have or your job, even if you are under 65.”

Adalja says that the focus right now is to “get as many first dosages into people’s arms as possible and let the supply chain catch up for the second dose,” adding: “You’ll see some benefit protection after one dose and that can have an impact. The idea is that the vaccine in the freezer is not helping anyone right now.”

Can people get the vaccine from their primary care physician?

The short answer is not yet. Part of the challenge is that COVID-19 vaccines require cold storage, particularly the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 70°C. (That’s colder than winter in Antarctica, reports NPR.) “I think eventually that will be the case,” says Adalja. “Right now, that’s not the case. As we get further into phase 1b and 1c, there may be some primary care physicians who have the ability to do that.”

Lee says the hope is that the number of vaccinators will begin to expand relatively soon. “Some of the limitations are due to the cold chain requirements and the short shelf life of vaccines — i.e., it must be used within six to 12 hours,” Lee explains. “We certainly want to be sure we’re not wasting any doses; hence, many vaccine clinics have been more centralized. As additional vaccines become available, the pool of vaccinators will continue to expand, which is much needed to help us get everyone vaccinated.”

Currently, the vaccines are mainly being administered at hospitals and clinics, as well as at long-term care facilities. But Purikh says that there eventually will be “large public vaccination sites … set up through the department of health” in different states. For example, California plans to open massive public vaccination sites for eligible Americans at Disneyland in Anaheim and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

When will people be able to get the vaccine from pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens as they do with the flu shot?

Like hospitals, “pharmacies will also be following state and county guidance on vaccine eligibility,” says Lee. While some pharmacies, such as Publix pharmacies in Florida, are already starting to offer COVID-19 vaccines to eligible groups, Parikh says that the vaccines will “likely” be available more widely at pharmacies across the country “in the next month or two.”

Adds Adalja: “You will see the drugstore chains being engaged even before primary care physicians are because they’ve been involved a lot in Operation Warp Speed.”

How will people know whether they got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine?

“Everyone should be receiving a vaccine card on the day of their shot that indicates what vaccine they receive,” explains Lee.

After getting the first dose, the health care provider will advise patients on when they’ll need to return for the second dose, “as it’s important everyone gets both doses,” says Parikh. The second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine needs to be given 21 days after the first dose, while the second Moderna vaccine needs to be administered 28 days later.

Adds Lee: “Also, I would encourage people to sign up for V-safe, which is a text messaging monitoring program you can enroll in after vaccination.” The tool, which needs to be downloaded to a smartphone, helps remind patients to return for their second dose and allows them to report any side effects they may experience from the vaccine, which can include arm soreness, fatigue, body aches and, in some cases, fever.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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