The U.S. government this week made recommendations on which people in the country should be vaccinated first, amid an unstoppable spike in coronavirus cases. Here you can find answers to some frequently asked questions.
According to the federal government, who can now be vaccinated?
Alex M. Azar II, the Minister of Health, on Tuesday called on all states to open eligibility to anyone over 65 and to adults of all ages with conditions that are at high risk of becoming seriously ill or contracting Covid- 19 die.
In total, that’s more than 150 million people – almost half of the population. They are now joining millions of healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities who have previously qualified.
Mr Azar did not specify the conditions under which someone would now be eligible for vaccination. Presumably, it will be up to the governors to decide, as will the question of what documents are required. However, the federal centers for disease control and prevention have published a list of particularly high-risk diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
How does eligibility vary depending on the state and why?
Although the CDC issued recommendations last month as to which group states should be vaccinated first while vaccine supplies are still relatively low, priorities are non-binding and each state has its own groupings.
The federal government cannot ask states to change the prioritization plans already announced, although renewed pressure from Mr Azar and the growing impatience of the public as deaths from the virus continue to hit new highs could lead many to do so.
When drawing up priority groups, state officials considered such criteria as the likelihood that they would be most likely to die if they contract Covid-19 – including people of color, the elderly, and those with underlying diseases – and which professions were critical to fully reopening the economy are . The demographics of each state also played a role.
I am qualifying now. How do I sign up?
This depends on which state or county you live in.
Some local health departments have set up portals where people can make appointments. Others host mass vaccination events and vaccinate people on a first-come, first-served basis.
In general, medical practices and pharmacies have asked patients and customers not to call them yet to schedule a vaccination appointment and instead wait to be contacted.
Most pharmacies don’t offer the vaccine yet, but CVS, Walgreens, and a number of other pharmacy chains, including some in grocery stores and large stores, will soon do so through a partnership with the federal government.
What about key workers whose job requires them to face other people? Are you entitled now?
In some states, yes.
Health workers in all states were the first to be offered the vaccine. And prior to Mr Azar’s instruction this week, several states had already initiated vaccination against certain categories of “frontline” workers such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, childcare workers and public transport workers.
But other states that had planned to offer the vaccine to some key workers soon can now re-prioritize based on Mr. Azar’s new guidance.
Nothing prevents states from opening vaccination to a new priority group before they have reached all members of a previous group, but care is an important consideration.
How many doses of vaccine does the US have access to?
Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies whose emergency vaccines were approved in the United States, have jointly committed to delivering 400 million doses over the next seven months.
Both vaccines require two doses, so 200 million out of around 260 million people who can currently be vaccinated will be enough. Children under 16 are not yet eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine, and children under 18 cannot yet take Moderna.
Johnson & Johnson, whose single-dose vaccine candidate is in late-stage clinical trials, has signed a contract with the US government to provide 12 million doses by the end of February and a total of 100 million doses by the end of June. However, the company has fallen behind on its production schedule.
How many people have been vaccinated so far?
The publicly available data is delayed by at least a few days, so it’s hard to know for sure. However, the CDC reported Wednesday that about 10.3 million people had received a starting dose of 29.4 million doses so far distributed across the country.
This includes nearly 1.1 million doses given to residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.