COVID-19 vaccines start Monday in the US. Where you stand in line and how long you may wait

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Coronavirus vaccines are just around the corner, but most people probably won’t be able to get them until well into 2021.


Sarah Tew/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The FDA authorized the first vaccine for COVID-19 for emergency use on Dec. 11, a formula made by Pfizer and BioNTech. That means that the first coronavirus vaccinations in the country are starting soon. But with a limited number of doses at first, only a relative few will get immunized against the coronavirus in 2020.

So who’s first in line for the initial COVID-19 doses and how long will you have to wait until it’s your turn? The unfortunate reality is that most people in the US will have to wait several months at least before they might have access to a coronavirus vaccine. Worse still, it could be a matter of years before everyone in the world can get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The answers as to who gets a priority immunization in America are becoming less hazy, but are far from definitive. Here’s what we know of the coronavirus vaccine rollout so far, as well as where you might fall in the priority list. (And here’s how much you might expect to pay for your COVID-19 vaccine.) This article was updated recently with new information, and is intended to be a general overview and not a source of medical advice.

Read more: How coronavirus mRNA vaccines could end the pandemic and change vaccines forever

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Even after coronavirus vaccines are authorized, people will have to continue wearing masks and taking other preventative measures for months to come.


Angela Lang/CNET

How many COVID-19 vaccine doses will we have?

There are over 330 million people in the US, but Pfizer says it expects to send the US 25 million doses by the end of 2020, or enough to vaccinate about 12.5 million Americans, as each recipient will need two doses. That’s roughly the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined. Moderna, which has a similar type of vaccine as Pfizer, says it will be able to make about 15 million vaccine doses at first, which can treat 7.5 million people (again, two shots per person). 

Senior US government officials will be vaccinated within days

President Donald Trump and top officials in all three branches of government will be among the first to get Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, Bloomberg reported Sunday.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” said John Ullyot, a national security spokesperson, according to CNBC.

Health care workers, nursing home residents and staff

Frontline health care workers who are particularly at risk of being exposed to coronavirus, including the roughly 20 million US doctors, nurses, lab technicians, EMT and hospital staff, will be at the top of the list, according to recommendations posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Employees and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes should also be part of the first batch of inoculations, according to the guidelines.

Ultimately, the decision on who gets first dibs on a COVID-19 vaccine belongs to state governors in consultation with their own public health experts, but states typically follow CDC guidelines, The New York Times reported.

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Life probably won’t be back to normal until late 2021 or 2022 at the earliest, which could mean regular temperature checks until the coronavirus is no longer a threat.


Angela Lang/CNET

Essential workers, people with medical conditions and older adults are next in line

The next priority tier for coronavirus vaccinations includes the following groups.

Essential workers: Approximately 87 million US workers provide the basic goods and services we need to survive. Most can’t work from home and many jobs require interacting with the public, so guarding against COVID-19 among this population would have a ripple effect across the whole country while also reducing critical service interruptions.

People with underlying medical conditions: Specifically, the 100 million or so people with conditions putting them at high risk for illness or death from COVID-19. Any disease affecting the lungs, but also anything that could compromise a person’s immune system, like cancer or HIV, would be included. 

Older adults: It’s widely accepted that risk of severe complications from COVID-19 increases with age. The ACIP recommends the approximately 53 million US adults age 65 and over be among the first to get vaccinated. 

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Some vaccines will require more than one dose to be effective.


Sarah Tew/CNET

What about everyone else?

The reality is that you should expect to wait. The top US infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Good Morning America in November that he expects “the ordinary citizen” should be able to get a vaccine by April, May or June 2021. 

In the interim, you’re still expected to adhere to pandemic safety practices like universal mask wearing, avoiding crowds, maintaining social distancing and washing our hands even more than usual. That includes everyone; vaccinated and unvaccinated alike (keep reading for more on what to expect).

When will children be vaccinated?

Pfizer’s vaccine has been approved for emergency use for people aged 16 and above. Children under 16 years old will not be eligible to receive the vaccination at this stage. You can read more about kids and the COVID-19 vaccine here.

If vaccines are here, when can we resume normal life?

Infection rates in the US are skyrocketing, with the seven-day rolling average now over 223,000 new infections per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and nearly 300,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus. 

One of the key advisors on President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, Dr. Michael Osterholm, has recommended a nationwide lockdown in the US for four to six weeks to help contain the rapidly spreading virus, although President Donald Trump said in November there would be no lockdown under his administration. 

Experts agree that people who leave their households will need to continue to wear masks, avoid crowds, maintain social distancing and practice regular hand-washing until further notice.

Whether or not COVID-19 vaccines are effective at stopping the spread of the coronavirus will depend a lot on how our bodies build immunity to the disease. Here’s what we know so far about whether you can get COVID-19 more than once. Testing is also key to slowing the coronavirus’ spread — learn about a device that can produce COVID-19 test results in under 90 minutes. And read up on how all of these issues and more affect Biden’s plan to fight COVID-19.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.



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