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Pfizer’s initial distribution of vaccines will be given to 21 million health care workers and 3 million mostly elderly people living in long-term care facilities.

First COVID-19 Vaccine Administered in the US

By Haley Nicholson | Dec. 15, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

Editor’s note: This story was updated Dec. 18, 2020, with new information regarding Moderna’s vaccine.

The news media has been abuzz about the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. Two companies, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorizations (EUAs) that would allow their vaccines to be produced and administered. To receive approval, the companies’ data had to be reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which determined that health care workers and long-term care residents should be the first groups to receive the vaccine. The CDC continues to develop COVID-19 vaccine recommendations, helping states and territories in making their vaccine distribution plans.

The ACIP met last week to review the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and recommended moving forward with its distribution to anyone over age 16. The FDA issued an EUA on Saturday following the meeting and notified the CDC and Operation Warp Speed to coordinate distribution plans. Initial doses were shipped over the weekend. The first round of deliveries will be completed in all 50 states this week, with Pfizer providing more “first-round” doses in late June or early July 2021. The first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine will include 2.9 million doses, with the government holding 500,000 doses in reserve. Another 2.9 million doses are being held back to ensure that the required second dose of the vaccine, which must be administered 21 days after the first dose, will be available for those receiving the vaccine in the first round.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee met this week to discuss Moderna’s EUA for a vaccine for people 18 and older, with the ACIP meeting afterward to evaluate plans for its distribution. The committee recommended moving forward with the EUA, anticipating that Moderna’s initial doses will be shipped this weekend into early next week. The U.S. purchased 100 million additional doses of the company’s vaccine candidate last week, doubling its initial commitment to address a vaccine shortfall. The 100 additional million doses are worth $1.65 billion and should be delivered during the second quarter of 2021.

The meetings, EUA approvals and distribution are just the first steps in a longer process of ensuring that all Americans will have access to a vaccine. As the process unfolds, there are several other factors worth noting:

  • State and local entities have received differing projections for how many vaccines they will receive in the initial and additional rounds and will have to adjust accordingly.
  • Pfizer’s initial distribution of vaccines will be given to 21 million health care workers and 3 million mostly elderly people living in long-term care facilities.
  • As vaccines are deployed, data on potential or delayed side effects will be collected to answer questions that would have been addressed in long-term trials with millions of participants under nonemergency circumstances.
  • Officials may need to consider potential ethical issues, including administering a placebo with a vaccine becoming available and patients leaving trials in which they are receiving a placebo.

With many Americans unlikely to receive a vaccine before late summer 2021, researchers continue to refine treatments to help those who contract COVID-19. More than 390 active trials and more than 560 development programs for therapeutic agents in planning stages. In addition, Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 in the last three months can donate convalescent plasma to help those with contracted cases.

Finally, the CDC continues to issue recommendations on how to protect ourselves and our communities, including by practicing the 3 W’s: Watching distances, Washing hands and Wearing masks. These mitigation efforts paired with vaccine developments are all part of the larger efforts to control and curb COVID-19’s current and future spread.

Haley Nicholson is senior policy director, health, in NCSL’s State-Federal Program.

NCSL Resources

NCSL Webinar:State Planning for Distribution and Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine,” Dec. 11, 2020


Additional Resources