Health workers across the country will be the first Americans to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. But, employees from essential government agencies will be next to get the COVID vaccine once it’s approved. Some government sources say that the vaccine could be distributed in as little as eight weeks. The CDC has said that the Department of Defense, Veterans Health Administration, Bureau of Prisons, Indian Health Service, and Department of State would receive vaccine doses straight from the government and will be first in line to receive vaccinations.
The vaccine distributions’ exact timing will depend on how fast the FDA clears the vaccine for emergency use. Pfizer was set to apply for approval on Friday. The pharmaceutical company developed the vaccine with BioNTech, a German drug company. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, is also expected to submit their application in the coming days.
Should the vaccinations not receive FDA authorization, the timing could be significantly delayed. But when approval does occur, how fast Americans can be vaccinated depends on the manufacturing of the various supplies needed to distribute the vaccine, including dry ice, which is in shortage. Dry ice is vital to maintaining the necessary temperature when shipping the vaccines. Pfizer’s vaccine, for instance, must maintain a temperature of -94 degrees F. In comparison, Moderna’s vaccine poses less of a challenge and must be shipped at -4 degrees F. Once thawed, Pfizer’s vaccine must be used within five days, while Moderna’s vaccine is good for up to 30 days. Both must maintain refrigeration until used.
The Centers for Disease Control’s “interim playbook” for its vaccination program lists healthcare and other essential workers and vulnerable high-risks groups such as the elderly and immunocompromised as part of its Phase One distribution plan.
Older State Department diplomats who are 70 years of age and older are also expected to receive an earlier vaccination. The CDC is also working with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as part of Operation Warp Speed to be prepared to receive the vaccination when it is available.
The FDA could take a few weeks to process the approval. Meanwhile, a meeting with advisors is scheduled for early December. It’s also possible that some Americans will receive their vaccination in as little as a month.
Once approval takes place, vaccination will be a phased process and limited to the most high-risk groups at first. This would mean that healthcare workers would be first, then the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.
Nothing is set in stone as distribution planning is ongoing.