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The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is off to a sluggish start in the U.S. KENA BETANCUR/Getty Images
  • Distribution of the vaccines has gotten off to a slow and uneven start.
  • Fewer than 12.3 million doses of the vaccine had been administered as of Jan. 15, according to the CDC.
  • To learn when, where, and how to get the vaccine, community members should start by checking with their local and state health departments.

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 Some information may be out of date.

As infection and death rates from COVID-19 continue to climb in the United States, many people are eager to get vaccinated against the disease.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so far authorized the use of two vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in adults, including one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and one developed by Moderna.

However, distribution of the vaccines has gotten off to a slow and uneven start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of Friday, Jan. 15, fewer than 12.3 million doses of the vaccine had been administered.

Many people are wondering when, where, and how they’ll be able to get vaccinated. Some don’t yet meet their states’ eligibility criteria, while others are eligible but have faced challenges in accessing the vaccine.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” said Dr. Stephen Russell, PhD, a physician at the Mayo Clinic and CEO of Imanis Life Sciences in Rochester, Minnesota.

“There’s demand that’s outstripping supply,” he said, “and that’s what’s really generating this uncertainty, frustration, and indignation.”

The federal government has given primary responsibility for COVID-19 vaccination to individual states, each of which is taking its own approach.

“The vaccine phases are being defined and applied differently not only state to state, but also county by county,” said Dr. Jami Doucette, MBA, CSCS, president of Premise Health, a direct healthcare provider that operates wellness centers in 45 states.

The government has been advising states to prioritize the vaccination of healthcare workers and people who live or work in long-term care facilities.

But during a press briefing last Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar encouraged states to expand their eligibility criteria to include older adults, as well as adults with high-risk medical conditions.

A survey conducted by The New York Times last week found that more than half of states are now vaccinating adults ages 65 and older.

However, some states are continuing to restrict their limited stock of vaccines to healthcare workers and long-term care staff and residents.

In states where vaccine eligibility has widened to include older adults, some eligible people may still find it challenging to get vaccinated right away.

Many states have established online patient portals or phone lines where people can learn about vaccine rollout and schedule an appointment to get vaccinated when eligible, said Gail Trauco, RN, BSN-OCN, an oncology nurse and patient advocate who’s been providing frontline care to patients in Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, and New York.

However, those systems are experiencing strain under surging demand. “Local COVID vaccine information websites and phone lines remain down or crash multiple times daily,” Trauco said.

Some people have successfully logged onto vaccine scheduling systems, only to find there are no free spots available. Long lines and wait times at vaccination clinics are also being reported.

People who are eagerly awaiting COVID-19 vaccination may find that in their region, there are more questions than answers.

Even in areas where vaccine rollout has been going relatively smoothly, the timeline for next steps is not always clear.

“They’ve really got a nice website here in Minnesota, where you can find out how many doses of vaccine have been promised, how many have come into the state, how many have been administered, how many people have had one, how many people have had two,” Russell said.

“You can find out where we’re at on that priority wave list. What you can’t do is find out when you’re going to get the vaccine,” he continued.

This makes it challenging for healthcare providers to answer patients’ questions about vaccine access or manage their expectations.

“The information resource is pretty good. It just needs to go to that next level of saying, ‘OK, this is the number you call to schedule your vaccine,’” Russell said.

“But it’s hard for the state to do that when they don’t know how much vaccine they’re going to get from the government at any given time,” he added.

To learn what information is available about when, where, and how to get the vaccine, community members should start by checking guidance published by their local and state health departments, Doucette said.

If the information they’re seeking has not yet been posted, they may check back on a regular basis for updates.

State and local media may also provide updates on changes in vaccine eligibility criteria and rollout plans.

“Checking published guidance and opportunities is the best way to find out when and how you are eligible for the vaccine,” Doucette said.

“This information could be on health department websites, shared in daily news conferences, or even posted to Twitter,” he added.

Patients may also ask their doctors, pharmacists, or other healthcare providers for more information about accessing the vaccine.

However, their healthcare providers may not have the answers yet.

Nonetheless, Russell believes there’s reason for optimism.

“We’re getting there, even if the orderly rollout is not perfect,” he said. “The fact that the vaccine’s coming, the whole machinery is getting in place, and people are showing up and getting vaccinated — that makes me optimistic.”