BOSTON — Do you have questions about the coronavirus vaccine? Here’s what we know so far:
The Department of Public Health and the COVID-19 Command Center have been working closely with federal, state and local officials and the health care community to prepare for the arrival of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Arrival of a vaccine is dependent on approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration. We expect vaccine to be delivered by the end of 2020. Per federal guidelines, the vaccine will first be given to those at highest risk for COVID-19 infection. We expect 300,000 initial doses of vaccine to arrive in Massachusetts by the end of 2020.
When a vaccine is approved, there will not be enough doses available for everyone at once, and so residents will get the vaccine in phases. The federal government has recommended, and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Advisory Group has agreed, that first doses of vaccine (Phase 1) will go to people at highest risk for COVID-19 including health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff of congregate care settings, including nursing homes.
The general public (those not falling into one of the higher risk categories) is not expected to be offered vaccine until later in 2021.
Massachusetts has considered input from the MA COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group and incorporated recommendations from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to guide prioritization in our state.
Massachusetts places equity as a core principle of its recommendations, going further than national recommendations by prioritizing all COVID-facing health workers, not only health care providers, but also healthcare food service and facility workers. Similarly, home health workers including personal care attendants are prioritized recognizing their important role providing services to vulnerable individuals and the fact that they often reside in communities highly affected by COVID-19.
Vaccine prioritization will occur in phases:
- Phase 1 (December 2020 – February 2021): Approved vaccines start to go to 5 priority groups (listed in order of priority):
Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care
Long term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities
Police, fire and emergency medical services
Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)
Home-based health care workers
Health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care
- Phase 2 (February – March 2021; listed in order of priority):
Individuals with 2+ co-morbid conditions (high risk for COVID-19 complications)
Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health workers
Individuals with one co-morbid condition
- Phase 3 (Starting in April 2021): Vaccine is expected to be available to the general public.
Residents of long term care facilities are being prioritized in Phase 1 of vaccination. The federal government has contracted with Walgreens and CVS to go to all facilities during Phase 1 to vaccinate staff and residents.
A vaccine will not be distributed in Massachusetts until the FDA determines the vaccine is safe.
It’s important to know that vaccines go through more testing than any other pharmaceuticals. Before any vaccine is made available, it must go through rigorous development and testing. Manufacturing is critical — every dose must consistently be high quality. Additionally, extensive testing in clinical trials is conducted to prove safety. First, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. Next, vaccine is given to people with particular characteristics (e.g., age and physical health). Then, vaccine is given to tens of thousands of people and tested for effectiveness and safety.
After that, the data is reviewed by the FDA which approves the vaccine, and by an independent board, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) which will make its recommendations for use. These bodies are the final safeguards for the public ensuring any vaccine is both safe and effective.
DPH and the COVID-19 Command Center are working closely with the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group to establish a distribution plan that prioritizes populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. As public health planners and practitioners, we are committed to engaging these communities in a meaningful way in the planning process, and will build on longstanding community relationships and develop a robust community engagement approach to ensure access.
Public vaccine clinics including COVID-19 vaccine when available can be found at CDC’s interactive website: vaccinefinder.org. Once vaccine is widely available you can also check with your primary care provider, local pharmacy or local health department. Information will also be available on the DPH website.
Dozens of vaccines are now in development, and several are moving toward final development. All but one of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States require two shots. The first shot starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. One vaccine in Phase 3 clinical trials only requires one shot.
The two vaccine makers closest to final approval are Pfizer and Moderna. Both have submitted their data to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are likely to be approved before the end of 2020. The U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative goal is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available before the end of 2020.
In addition to licensed health care providers, like doctors and nurses and pharmacists, according to the federal CARES Act, vaccinations may be administered by pharmacy interns, certified pharmacy techs, paramedics, and certified medical assistants, under the direct supervision of a primary care provider. When available, all health care institutions including hospitals, community health centers, and private medical offices will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine to vaccinate their patients. Pharmacies including large retail outlets such as CVS, Walgreens, Osco, and Walmart will have access to the vaccine and will be able to vaccinate their customers. Vaccine will likely also be made available to local health departments for vaccinating their local residents at public clinics.
The vaccine is being provided free of charge to all individuals by the federal government. Insurance companies are also committed to not charging any out-of-pocket fees or co-payments related to COVID-19 vaccine administration, and all health care provider sites that receive COVID-19 vaccine must agree to not charge patients any out-of-pocket fees or deny anyone vaccination services.
Visit these frequently updated CDC web pages on COVID-19 vaccination:
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