COVID-19 vaccine timeline: explained

Note: This article is factually accurate as of February 2021. However, the vaccine rollout plans are ever-changing so many statistics and claims in this article may not be relevant to the time you are reading it.

According to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker – updated daily with statistics pertaining to the current state of the pandemic and vaccines in the United States – nearly 63.1 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to about 13% of Americans as of February 22nd, including 5.7% of Americans who have now received both doses.

The CDC’s Vaccine Rollout Recommendations act as guidelines for the order in which vaccines are to be distributed among Americans. California and several other states, however, are creating their own schedules that slightly differ. Based on criteria such as age, presence of underlying conditions, and profession, individuals are placed into one of several phase levels outlined below.

– Individuals in Phase 1a, including healthcare professionals and residents of long-term care facilities, are first in line for the vaccine. As of February 3rd, many have already received one or both vaccine doses.

– Next in line are essential workers (firefighters, police, USPS workers, educators, etc.), all of whom are in Phase 1b. Individuals in this group provide crucial services to communities across the country, putting their health at risk daily. Phase 1b also includes people age 75 and older who are at elevated risk of COVID infection, hospitalization, and death due to their age. Homeless individuals will also be vaccinated in the second part of this phase.

– Phase 1c, which may overlap with Phase 1b, includes people age 50 and older as well as individuals age 16-50 with underlying medical conditions. As these groups are at greater risk of hospitalization if infected, vaccinating them will help free up beds and ventilators in overwhelmed hospitals across the country. Phase 1c also includes non-frontline essential workers (transportation workers, etc.).

It’s important to note that the aforementioned phases and those that follow are current to this article’s publishing, but have been in a constant state of fluctuation over the past few months and may continue to be shifted. While the CDC’s recommendations currently do not outline the timeline beyond these three sub-phases, an article by the Sacramento Bee outlines what is currently expected to follow in California.

– Phase 2 will likely include young adults age 16+ (prioritized by age) and children (though it’s important to note that vaccine trials have yet to include children, so vaccines will not be available to them unless risks are better known). Industry-based priorities have been removed from this stage, as the state of California is currently leaning towards completely age-based priorities. The vast majority of Urban students should expect to receive the vaccine in this phase.

Despite the detailed plan for vaccine distribution that the CDC has put forth and the increasing production rate of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, many are surprised by the slow speed at which vaccines have been administered. In fact, in a recent news conference, federal health officials admitted that they did not have a clear understanding as to why only a fraction of the doses being shipped across the country are actually being administered. In California, for example, approximately 25% of the nearly 9.3 million doses distributed have yet to find their way into the arms of patients.

Further exacerbating America’s struggle to finally escape the pandemic and subsequent widespread tragedies, a new variant of COVID-19 has now arrived from the UK and begun spreading, particularly in California. At the time of writing this article, in fact, the new strain has been detected in multiple UC Berkeley students and in residents throughout California. Furthermore, scientists have now detected yet another strain of COVID, seemingly unique to California, which is now being called CAL.20C. The UK variant is confirmed to be faster-spreading – and therefore, more dangerous – than the original strain, and CAL.20C is currently being tested to determine how it differs from the original variant.

The appearance of these new variants in communities across the country makes vaccinating the population all the more urgent. It also makes the slow rate at which vaccines are being administered all the more concerning.

With all that being said, two questions remain at the forefront for many Americans and Urban students. “When will I be able to receive the vaccine?” and “When can we expect herd immunity to be reached – the point when enough people are immune that virus spread is unlikely – and the pandemic to be over?”

Currently, California is in the process of vaccinating individuals within the Phase 1 categories. This means that people aged 65+ and many essential workers currently have access to the vaccine. Many in these groups, like firefighter and Urban parent, Chris Pratt, have already been fully vaccinated. Still, the completion of these phases, as well as Phase 1c and Phase 2, remain between now and when many Urban students will have access to the vaccine.

As the newly elected President of the United States, Joe Biden has promised that 100 million vaccines will be administered in the first 100 days of his presidency. Still, even if the country succeeds in vaccinating at a rate of 1 million shots per day, by April 1st (the end of this 100 day period), America will remain far from any semblance of normalcy.

Being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 requires receiving two doses. Therefore, in order for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated and herd immunity to be reached, about 462 million shots must be administered. As we progress towards this goal, many people should not expect to be first in line until early 2022 if the rate of 1 million doses a day does not improve.

Still, there is room for flexibility in this timeline. According to a column by the Kaiser Family Foundation, if vaccinations were increased to 2.4 million per day, we could reach the threshold of 70% by July.

So, to answer the questions posed above, Urban students should expect to receive their vaccine in Phase 2, but it’s difficult to predict when that will be. The rate of daily vaccinations and whether all doses distributed are actually being administered are key determining factors for when Phase 2 will be reached.

When herd immunity will be achieved, however, is an even more difficult and undoubtedly more important question. Vaccine hesitancy remains widespread, with many Americans suspicious of the speed at which the vaccine was approved for use, exacerbated by the growth of the anti-vaccine movement in recent years. New data from the U.S Census Bureau indicates that nearly a quarter of currently unvaccinated adults say that they will choose not to receive the vaccine. Such widespread suspicion only worsens the very real fear that American society won’t escape the pandemic for quite some time. In response to these concerns, “Do your research. Understand that all the vaccines [that] have come out are very safe. And if we can get back to normal, that’d be a lot better for the world,” Pratt says.