How does eligibility vary by state, and why? Although the Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations last month for which groups states should vaccinate initially, while the vaccine supply is still relatively low, the priorities are not binding and each state has come up with its own groupings. Nor can the federal government require states to change the prioritization plans they have already announced, although the new pressure from Mr. Azar, and growing public impatience as deaths from the virus keep hitting new peaks, may sway many to do so. In coming up with priority groups, state officials considered criteria like who is most likely to die if they contract Covid-19 — including people of color as well as the elderly and the sick — and which professions are critical to helping the economy fully reopen. Each state’s unique demographics also played a role.
I qualify now. How do I sign up?
This depends very much on what state or even what county you live in. Some local public health departments have set up portals where people can make appointments; others are holding mass vaccination events and inoculating people on a first-come, first-served basis. Generally, doctor’s offices and pharmacies have asked that patients and customers not call them seeking vaccine appointments just yet, and instead wait to be contacted. Most pharmacies are not yet offering the vaccine, but CVS, Walgreens and a number of other chain pharmacies, including some in grocery and big-box stores, will soon start doing so through a partnership with the federal government.
With the federal government saying that older people and those with underlying medical conditions should get vaccinated next, what happens to essential workers whose jobs require them to come face to face with other people? Are they eligible now, too?
In some states, yes. Health care workers in every state were the first to be offered the vaccine. And before Mr. Azar’s directive this week, several states had already opened vaccination to certain categories of “frontline” essential workers, such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, child-care workers and public transit employees. But other states that had planned to start offering the vaccine to some essential workers in the coming weeks may reprioritize now, based on Mr. Azar’s new guidance. There is nothing stopping states from opening vaccination to a new priority group before they have reached everyone in an earlier group, but supply is an important consideration.
How many vaccine doses does the United States have access to? So far, Pfizer and Moderna, the only two companies whose vaccines have been approved for emergency use here, together have pledged to provide 400 million doses over the next seven months. Both vaccines require two doses, so that will be enough for 200 million people, out of roughly 260 million who are eligible at this point to be vaccinated. Children younger than 16 are not yet eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine, and those younger than 18 cannot yet take Moderna’s. Johnson & Johnson, which has a single-dose vaccine candidate in late-stage clinical trials, has a contract with the federal government to provide 12 million doses by the end of February, and a total of 100 million doses by the end of June. But the company has fallen behind on its production schedule.