It's Here. Shipments of the first authorized coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. arrived today in Washington. Vaccinations could begin as soon as Tuesday, with health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and tribal governments receiving the initial doses statewide. “We now have in view the end of this pandemic,” Jay Inslee said during an upbeat Sunday press conference.
The announcement followed Friday’s news that the FDA had granted emergency use authorization to a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Over the weekend, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup—a group of immunization experts commissioned by Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada to review federal data and ostensibly say “no, really, you can trust this!”—offered its unanimous support for the shots. The workgroup will likely vet another vaccine, created by the National Institutes of Health and biotech firm Moderna, next weekend, provided the FDA approves it later this week. The aforementioned prioritized groups could start getting jabs of that vaccine in the days before Christmas.
The time frame for the broader population to receive these vaccines, however, remains far less clear. Here’s everything you need to know so far about Washington’s vaccine mobilization.
Which vaccine are we getting?
The first approved coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. was made by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company. It requires two doses administered three weeks apart. Washington expects to receive shipments on Monday and start injections on Tuesday.
Isn’t there another vaccine?
Dozens are in development, but yes, there is another shot headed our way soon. It hasn’t yet received FDA approval—that’s expected to come later this week—but if all goes well, the NIH–Moderna vaccine should arrive here in the days before Christmas. It requires two doses given four weeks apart.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna products are mRNA vaccines. Instead of using a dead or weakened piece of virus to generate an immune response, these vaccines inject messenger RNA that merely mimics the virus to provoke the body's reaction. You can read more about this scientific advancement here.
How many doses of these vaccines are we receiving?
About 62,400 doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine will be distributed in Washington this week, with 222,000 in total expected by the end of December. Approximately 183,000 doses of the NIH–Moderna vaccine would be doled out during the same period, including an initial batch of 128,000, according to the state’s acting assistant secretary of health Michele Roberts. In January, another 500,000 to one million doses should arrive. The number of adults in each state determine the weekly delivery sizes (coronavirus vaccines haven't yet been cleared for children); no, Inslee’s quarrels with president Donald Trump won’t affect our share.
Who’s getting the vaccines first?
Health care workers and long-term care residents and staff are part of the state’s “Phase 1A.” First responders count as health care personnel, and “community-based, congregate living settings where most individuals over 65 years of age are receiving care, supervision, or assistance aiming to avoid hospitalizations, severe morbidity, and mortality” are considered long-term care sites. Inslee says tribal governments will receive doses for distribution.
Who’s next in line?
The state has yet to announce this information. The CDC required all states to submit an interim rollout plan in October; you can find Washington’s here. Though it leaves room for adjustments, the plan includes the National Academy of Medicine’s Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine, a four-phase approach that Washington and other states likely won’t deviate from much. Teachers, child care workers, and other essential workers would be next in line if the state follows that guidance.
When will the broader population get vaccinated?
Local public health officials have said that it will take well into spring for everyone who wants a vaccine to get one; Roberts was more conservative today, stating, "We’ll have most people in Washington vaccinated by mid-summer." In at least one state’s distribution plan, the general public can sign up for shots in April, May, and June.
Where can people get vaccinated?
Roberts says 40 facilities in 29 counties, one pharmacy serving long-term care centers, two tribal nations, and one other Indigenous health provider will offer the vaccine at first; The Seattle Times reports that UW Medicine and Swedish are among the health systems receiving initial doses for workers. As of last week, nearly 200 providers statewide had signed up to administer shots of vaccine, with many more in various stages of the application process. The state has been hesitant to list vaccination sites, perhaps because organized crime groups may try to nab doses. Bottom line: Many, many health care providers will have access to a coronavirus vaccine by the time it's widely distributed.
How effective are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?
Both studies posted an efficacy rate in the neighborhood of 95 percent after clinical trials. It’s unknown how long the doses offer protection, though.
Are there side effects and risks to getting these vaccines?
Yes. Really, no vaccine is without risks. Some post-injection arm soreness and mild symptoms—a slight fever, muscle aches—are two of the most likely side effects for either vaccine. But both vaccines' studies showed they were safe.
How many people need to get vaccinated for the U.S. to achieve “herd immunity”?
A 70 percent vaccination rate would likely eliminate outbreaks, says state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. Covid-19 survivors should already have some immunity, expediting the state’s curve-crushing.
How quickly will quickly will social and economic restrictions get rolled back?
Not quickly. Inslee says we’re still going to be in social distancing-mode for months as the state's adult population gradually gets injected. Nobody should cancel their last-minute holiday mask orders or schedule any parades just yet.
Can we trust these vaccines?
Every local public health official has stressed that science has guided the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine’s authorization, and they’ll probably say the same when the NIH–Moderna vaccine gets the go-ahead. Even Inslee, who says he was “healthily skeptical” of the speedy development process backed by president Donald Trump, has repeatedly vouched for the process’s rigor. He says he’ll get the vaccine when it’s his turn in line.