Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Guide

Member of the U.S. Armed Forces receiving a vaccine.By: U.S. Military

When You Can Get the Vaccine

While most state governors have ultimate say over who will receive a vaccine first and in what order they will be distributed, the vast majority of them have said they will follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Once you receive the first dose of your vaccine, you will receive a card that will detail which vaccine you received, the date of your first vaccine, and when you need to get your second dose.

As of this writing, the FDA is recommending a phased approach to vaccinations where frontline workers and residents of nursing homes will receive their vaccinations first. 

The groups are as follows:

Phase 1(a): 

  • Healthcare personnel (anyone who has direct interaction with patients on a regular basis, up to and including physicians, nurses, therapists, etc. 
  • Residents of long-term care facilities regardless of age. 

Phase 1(b)

  • Frontline essential workers (fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and educators (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers.)
  • Incarcerated and homeless individuals. 
  • People aged 75 years and older.

Phase 1(c): 

  • People aged 65—74 
  • People aged 16—64 with underlying medical conditions which increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from COVID-19.
  • Other essential workers (people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.)

Phase 2:

  • All other individuals who do not meet any of the requirements to receive a vaccine during any stage of Phase 1.

Again, this is the guidance issued by the CDC and FDA and individual states are currently not required to follow the guidance. This can change with the passage of a Federal law that addresses vaccine distribution, but that has not happened as of this writing.

You can visit your states Department of Health website for more individualized vaccine distribution information. 

Which Vaccine to Take

There are multiple vaccines currently being developed, with some already having received approval for distribution while others approval are expected in the coming days and weeks. While there will be a number of vaccines available in the near future, it is unlikely Americans will be able to choose which vaccine they will be able to take due to logistical constraints in the vaccination of hundreds of millions of people. 

While a number of companies throughout the world are in the process of developing and distributing vaccines to their populations, the three main vaccines that are or will soon be available in the United States are:

Pfizer-BioNtech Vaccine:
American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer partnered with German biotechnology company BioNtech to develop their vaccine. The vaccine was the first to gain FDA approval and is now being distributed throughout the United States. 

The vaccine requires recipients to receive two doses, separated by 21 days. The vaccine is delivered by an injection in the recipients upper arm. It is proven to be 95% effective in protection against the virus in recipients aged 16 and older.

This vaccine uses mRNa, which “teaches our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies.” It needs to be stored at an extremely low temperature of between -112°F and -76°F and may only be out of that temperature range for no more than 120 hours (5 days) in order to be viable. Since it must be stored at such low temperatures, it requires special refrigeration equipment that many rural less affluent areas of the country may not have access to. Once thawed, the vaccine cannot be refrozen. 

Typical side effects of this vaccine include “pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever.” and may last up to several days. Researchers have noted that more people experience one or more side effects after receiving their second dose, but are unsure why that is the case. However, individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions have experienced more severe side effects that required additional medical attention.

Moderna Vaccine:

American biotechnology company Moderna is the second vaccine to gain FDA approval and is now being distributed throughout the United States. 

The vaccine requires recipients to receive two doses, separated by 28 days. The vaccine is delivered by an injection in the recipients upper arm. It is proven to be 94% effective in protection against the virus in recipients aged 16 and older.

This vaccine also uses mRNa, but can be stored at less extreme temperatures of between -13°F and 5°F, which means it can be stored in a standard freezer. It will last outside of the freezer in refrigeration for up to 30 days. It can not be refrozen after being taken out of the freezer, which means it must be used within 30 days of being unfrozen. 

Typical side effects of this vaccine include “pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever.” and may last up to several days. Researchers have noted that more people experience one or more side effects after receiving their second dose, but are unsure why that is the case. However, individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions have experienced more severe side effects that required additional medical attention.

AstraZeneca-Oxford University Vaccine:

British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca partnered with Oxford University to develop their vaccine. As of this writing it is in Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States and is still awaiting FDA approval before being able to be distributed throughout the country.

The vaccine requires recipients to receive two doses, separated by 25-30 days. The vaccine is delivered by an injection in the recipients upper arm and is proven to be between 70% and 90% effective depending on the dosage amount.

This vaccine is developed using existing vaccine technology and, once approved, will be able to be mass produced at a much higher scale than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently able to. This is because the vaccine can be stored at less extreme temperatures, for a longer period of time, that don’t require special equipment. Because of that, the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine will be able to more readily reach rural areas that don’t have the freezing capacity that many metropolitan areas have.

Typical side effects of this vaccine include “flu-like symptoms, including fever, fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain.” Researchers have noted that more people experience one or more side effects after receiving their second dose, but are unsure why that is the case. However, individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions have experienced more severe side effects that required additional medical attention.

Healthcare providers are recommending that vaccine recipients, regardless of which one they take, remain on site for 15-30 minutes after receiving their first and second dose in case the recipient has an allergic reaction to the vaccine they receive.

Where to Get the Vaccine

CVS and Walgreens are administering the first round of vaccines at long-term care facilities in all fifty states and territories while hospitals are in the process of administering the first round of vaccines to essential healthcare workers. 

Individuals who fall under Phases 1(b), 1(c), and 2 will have many more options to receive their vaccine, but while supplies are limited individuals will likely need to schedule an appointment to get their vaccine. As the vaccine rollout gains traction, it is possible that walk-in appointments will be available, but that may not be for quite some time. 

Every major pharmacy in the country has developed a plan to administer vaccines to members of their community, including Albertsons, CVS, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Rite Aid, Target, and Walgreens.

Superstores with pharmacies will also be offering vaccinations, including Kroger (and their umbrella companies), Costco, Walmart, and Winn-Dixie.

In addition, primary care physicians will likely be administering the vaccine when it becomes more readily available. 

Some states have even said they intend to set up drive-thru vaccination clinics to quickly vaccinate as many people as possible. To ensure the safety of all involved, recipients will be advised to wait between 15 and 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine in order to monitor any potential side effects.

How Much Will I Pay For the Vaccine?

The amount you pay out of pocket for the vaccine will depend on a number of factors, namely whether or not you have health insurance and what vaccine you are given.

According to the CDC

Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone. Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

Any individual currently enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will receive their vaccine free of charge with no deductible and anyone enrolled in a healthcare plan that adheres to regulations set forth in the Affordable Care Act will also not be required to pay a deductible. 

The only caveat is anyone who is enrolled in a "grandfathered plan" or any private insurance that isn't regulated by the Affordable Care Act. Individuals enrolled in one of those plans may be required to pay a fee for their vaccine, but some states have already suggested they will step in to help anyone in one of those plans who can not afford their fee. 

Frequently Asked Questions

There are a number of legitimate questions people have about the vaccine(s), which is entirely appropriate. Some of the most frequently asked questions are:

Should I get the vaccine if I’ve already contracted the virus? 
Yes, you should still get the vaccine if have already contracted the virus. The only caveat is when you can get your vaccine after having the virus. It is recommended to wait until all of your symptoms have subsided before getting vaccinated. As always, consult your physician before making any decision.

Can I unknowingly spread the virus after getting vaccinated?
There is a debate as to whether someone can unknowingly spread the virus after getting vaccinated, which is why it is strongly recommended to continue wearing a mask and practice social distancing even after receiving your vaccine.

Can I still get the virus after getting vaccinated?
Vaccines take time to help the body build a defense against a virus, so it is possible to get the virus in the days immediately following your vaccination. In addition, most vaccines require two doses, so your body won't be fully immune for up to one month after receiving your first dose. 

In addition, no vaccine is 100% effective, so it is still very important to continue following federal and state health guidelines. However, the top three vaccines appear to be highly effective, even among the elderly and vulnerable population.

As of now, it is still unknown how long immunity will last after you receive both doses of the vaccine and it will take some time for doctors and medical professionals to determine how long immunity will last, but early data is giving healthcare professionals that it will last for a long time. 

Should I still wear a mask and practice social distancing after getting vaccinated?
Yes, you should still continue to practice all CDC guidelines meant to deter the spread of the virus even after getting vaccinated. This includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands and other high touch surfaces often. That is because it is still unknown if a vaccinated person can unintentionally spread the virus to someone who hasn't been vaccinated yet. 

Can my employer require me to get the vaccine?
In most cases, your employer may require you to get the vaccine in order to return to work. There are, as in most things, health and religious exemptions, but the vast majority of employers may require their employees to be vaccinated for the overall safety of the entire workforce.

Private companies, especially those in the travel and entertainment industry, also have a strong case to require anyone using their services to be vaccinated (once it is readily available to the entire country), especially for those traveling internationally. Many countries already require those visiting to provide proof of vaccination for any number of illnesses, so it will be highly likely they will require proof of vaccination for this virus, as well.