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Healthcare workers and nursing home residents are already getting the COVID-19 vaccine. People ages 75 and older as well as frontline essential workers are next. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • More than 4.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped, and more than 600,000 people in the United States have been inoculated.
  • The first group to receive the vaccine were mostly healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
  • The CDC has released a new priority list: People ages 75 and older and frontline essential workers are next.
  • Health officials hope to vaccinate 10 million people in the United States in December, 30 million in January, and 50 million in February.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

More than half a million people in the United States have already received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

However, doses of the vaccine are in short supply right now.

So, the vaccine advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prioritized two high-risk groups to be the first to receive the inoculation.

They were healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The CDC referred to this as phase 1a of its coronavirus vaccine rollout.

As more doses become available, other groups of people will have access to the vaccine.

So, who’s next in line?

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met over the weekend to determine the next priority groups. They are:

Phase 1b

  • People ages 75 and older
  • Frontline essential workers, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, food and agricultural workers, workers in the manufacturing industry, corrections workers, postal employees, public transit workers, and grocery store employees

Phase 1c

  • People ages 65 and older
  • People ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that increases their risk of severe COVID-19
  • Other essential workers, such as transportation workers, food service employees, construction workers, and people in the finance, information technology, communication, energy, media, legal, public safety, water, and wastewater industries

Phase 2

  • People ages 16 to 64 without high-risk medical conditions

Jeffrey Levi, PhD, a professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said these guidelines take into account a number of factors.

“There’s always this balance between who has the highest risk of dying and what we need to do in order to keep society functioning,” Levi told Healthline.

Healthcare workers were prioritized in the first group because they’re needed to care for people with COVID-19, and they’re frequently exposed to the novel coronavirus.

However, when it comes to essential workers, each state may decide who’s next in line.

“Some communities are beginning to think that there is a great social need to reopen schools,” Levi said. “As a group, teachers may not be at the highest risk of death [from COVID-19], but vaccinating them will have a tremendous societal value.”

Vaccine doses started shipping around the country earlier this month, but limited doses will be available until manufacturers are able to ramp up production.

The CDC reports that as of Dec. 20, more than 4.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed. This includes both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which was approved Friday, Dec. 18, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

More than 600,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered.

The Moderna vaccine began shipping shortly after its approval by the FDA. The first doses were given on Tuesday, Dec. 22, to frontline workers from the National Institutes of Health during a live event.

Both vaccines require 2 doses for stronger protection, so the number of available doses covers half as many people.

Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine program, anticipates that, with two vaccines approved, there will be enough doses to vaccinate 10 million people in December, followed by 30 million in January, and 50 million in February.

However, the CDC estimates that there are 24 million people eligible for vaccination during phase 1a, 49 million in phase 1b, and 129 million during phase 1c.

This exceeds the doses available during the first 3 months. So state and local health departments, hospitals, and other facilities administering the vaccine may have to prioritize beyond the CDC’s recommendations.

As for phase 2, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t expect widespread availability of the vaccine until midsummer or early fall.

The CDC’s groupings are not the only recommendations out there.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph in Canada modeled different ways of distributing the vaccines.

They published their results on the preprint server medRxiv on Sept. 27.

Their model shows that early vaccination high-risk groups — such as people ages 60 and older — had the most benefit.

However, when vaccinating later on, the biggest impact came from inoculating people who had the highest number of contacts, such as young adults and children.

These groups have the highest risk of transmitting the virus to others. Vaccinating them interrupts the chain of transmission and protects others.

This assumes that the vaccine prevents people from passing the virus to others, something that scientists don’t know yet but are hoping to determine soon.

Chris Bauch, PhD, a study author and a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, said they included younger children in their modeling because they wanted to see if it made sense for companies to seek approval of their vaccines in younger age groups.

So far, only people 16 years and older can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is approved only for people 18 years and older.

However, even without being able to vaccinate younger children, this approach could still work.

“My sense from the existing modeling is that it would not change our overall study conclusions,” Bauch told Healthline.

States are not required to follow the CDC’s recommendations, but most states have been doing so for phase 1a, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Even if states try to follow these recommendations exactly, it’s not always possible due to logistical issues

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored in ultralow temperatures, which limits the facilities that can distribute the vaccine.

Also, each shipment of vaccine contains a minimum number of doses. And once the vaccine is thawed, it needs to be used within a few hours.

So, vaccination sites will need to determine how to best use the doses they have.

Some hospitals have already found that fewer healthcare workers than expected are choosing to get vaccinated. So, the hospitals end up having to vaccinate outside that priority group.

Levi said that even in those situations, the CDC’s priority recommendations can guide how these decisions are made.

“Is there a nursing home in the community that needs more vaccine? Or do you then move to the over-75 group or other essential workers?,” he said.

Stanford Medicine recently came under fire for choosing to give some of its initial doses of vaccine to administrators and physicians without patient contact over frontline workers. They have since apologized and revised their plan.

“There needs to be absolute transparency about the decision-making process and who’s getting in line first,” Levi said. “And adhering to whatever you decide, so that there is no sense that people are getting preferential treatment.”