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The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have received FDA authorization in the U.S. so far.
President Biden announced in early April that all American adults will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, two weeks earlier than previously planned.
Doctors explain when to expect your turn for vaccination, plus what to do if you’re offered a dose early.
Since mid-December, healthcare providers across the United States have been administering Moderna’s and Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, which received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late February, is already boosting the immunization effort. In fact, the U.S. recently hit a new record by administering more than 4 million doses in 24 hours.
In early April, President Joe Biden announced that all American adults will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, two weeks earlier than previously planned. This followed a March 2 announcement that the U.S. will have enough supply of the vaccines to immunize all adults by the end of May.
More than 169 million vaccine doses have been administered across the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As positive cases plateau and spring approaches, here’s when you can expect to receive your COVID-19 vaccine, plus everything you need to know about vaccine distribution in the U.S. so far.
Who is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine first?
When the first two vaccines received authorization from the FDA in December, the CDC released initial guidelines, which recommended vaccinations first for healthcare workers and long-term care patients, then essential workers and those 75 and older, followed by people in high-risk groups and those 65 and older.
But because the federal government is distributing vaccine doses directly to states, it’s up to each one to decide how to get them to citizens. In other words, there are 50 different distribution plans, and your eligibility might look strikingly different than that of a relative across the country.
If you’re a member of an eligible group in your state, your healthcare provider has likely already contacted you, says Andrew Thomas, M.D., chief clinical officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who was instrumental in building Ohio’s vaccine signup infrastructure.
Many health systems have been contacting anyone in their records who meets their state’s vaccine eligibility requirements, although this isn’t guaranteed. Once contacted, patients can schedule an appointment—again, this varies by state, but sign-ups are often conducted via the state health department’s website or over the phone with an operator. Nearly all clinics require appointments to ensure there are enough doses, so solidifying your time slot is crucial. (Check out this handy list of resources for each state.)
If you’re unsure of your eligibility or haven’t yet been contacted by a healthcare provider, the CDC recommends contacting your local health department for more information. Dr. Thomas also suggests calling your primary doctor or care provider, who might be able to connect you with a clinic and help you schedule an appointment.
To find a clinic, verified sites like VaccineFinder also aggregate the ones near you and mark whether a particular site is out of doses until the next shipment. For now, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to receive the vaccine at your doctor’s office—but that will eventually change as more people become fully vaccinated and more doses are made widely available, says Dr. Thomas.
When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for everyone?
On April 6, President Biden announced that he would direct states to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for vaccination no later than April 19, two weeks earlier than his previously announced deadline of May 1, in hopes of returning the nation to some sense of normalcy by July 4.
Depending on where you live, there might be wiggle room even before then. “April will be what I would call open season,” Anthony Fauci, M.D., the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, explained on NBC’s Today show on February 11. He expects that “virtually anybody and everybody” will be able to sign up for and receive a COVID-19 vaccine this month.
For example, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds—who lifted mask requirements in the state despite public health recommendations—announced in March that anyone of-age will be able to receive the vaccine in Iowa starting April 5. Maryland and New York, meanwhile, opened up vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older on April 6.
Vaccine supply had already been steadily increasing before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine received approval, Dr. Thomas explains. In Ohio, he notes that the number of doses made available each week more than doubled from mid-January to the beginning of March. There are more immunization clinics now, too, run by states, hospitals, and retail locations.
As of last month, local pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, have been administering the COVID-19 vaccines. Per a new program implemented by the president, the federal government has distributed millions of doses to 6,500 retail pharmacies, with plans to expand to more than 40,000 easily accessible locations before long. Biden has also invoked the Defense Production Act, which was previously used to produce N95 masks, to stimulate vaccine production.
Should I take any available dose, even if I’m not eligible for the vaccine yet?
Some people have been lucky enough to receive the COVID-19 vaccine early, despite not qualifying for an eligible group in their area. If you happen to have the chance to receive the vaccine early—without fabricating your eligibility—you should feel confident taking it.
“It’s not morally wrong at all, but only if it’s an excess dose that’s going to be wasted,” Dr. Thomas explains. It’s better overall to take the vaccine and contribute to community immunity than to allow a precious resource to be thrown away.
This is not the same as skipping the line. At the end of each day, a few extra doses from open vials will be available due to no-shows. Often, Dr. Thomas explains, people who accompany those being vaccinated (such as a family member of an elderly person) are offered a leftover dose. No matter how you get the chance—as long as the vaccine is expiring and wouldn’t otherwise go to someone in a prioritized group—you can and should keep it from going to waste.
Is one COVID-19 vaccine better than the other?
“The best vaccine is the one that’s offered the day you go in for your appointment,” Dr. Thomas explains. “All of these vaccines are incredibly effective. They’re all safe.”
Pfizer shared in November that its vaccine is 95% effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19 infection. Moderna’s clinical trial results also showed that its vaccine was 95% effective after two doses. Both companies are now testing a third booster dose to stay ahead of new, highly infectious coronavirus variants.
Johnson & Johnson, who conducted a global trial while the variants began to spread more rapidly, found that its vaccine is 85% effective at preventing a severe or critical form of COVID-19 at least 28 days after vaccination. In the company’s phase 3 clinical trial, “there were no COVID-19-related deaths and no COVID-19 cases requiring medical intervention occurring 28 days or more post-vaccination”—even among participants 60 years or older with underlying conditions, per the FDA.
But comparing the efficacy rates among the vaccines is like comparing apples to oranges, Dr. Thomas says. Each trial was conducted at a different time, with different people, and in different places, all of which can have an impact on the reported efficacy. All three vaccines are effective where it matters the most: Each one prevents a severe or critical COVID-19 infection that could otherwise lead to hospitalization or death.
Most people aren’t used to being so familiar with vaccine data, presenting them with “decisions they’ve never needed to make before,” Dr. Thomas says. “I can’t remember the last time a patient asked me, ‘What brand of flu shot am I getting?’ or ‘What’s the percent effectiveness of this shot?’”
“The longer someone waits to get vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or a mutation,” Dr. Fauci said on the Today show on February 25. “So, the sooner we get a vaccine into the arms of individuals, whatever that vaccine is—once it gets by the FDA for [authorization], if it’s available to you, get it.”
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
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