The U.S. COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution System

Angelina Astic, Copy Editor

As the Food and Drug Administration works alongside other federal agencies to approve vaccines for COVID-19, the U.S. has begun outlining its plans to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans throughout the end of this year into 2021 with hopes of gaining control over the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the New York Times, the U.S. has seen over 15.6 million COVID-19 cases which have resulted in over 292,000 deaths. With the holiday season in full swing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that those numbers may rise in response to family gatherings, and encourage Americans to celebrate holidays in a COVID-19-safe manner

Currently, the U.S. works alongside both public and private industries as part of Operation Warp Speed, a billion-dollar project designed to support the search for a vaccine through research, testing, meeting necessary steps for approval and assisting in distribution. Operation Warp Speed’s objective is to manufacture and distribute over 300 million doses of a “safe and effective” COVID-19 vaccine to Americans by Jan. 1, 2021. 

Drugmakers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna currently have the first two vaccines that may be made available in the U.S. Both corporations have produced vaccines that utilize messenger RNA technology, which alters genetic material to stimulate a response from the immune system. Vaccines that utilize mRNA technology have never received approval from the FDA, making the expected emergency-use authorization of an mRNA vaccine a historic scientific advancement. On Dec. 10, an FDA panel formally issued a recommendation to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for emergency use in the U.S.

An additional vaccine candidate stands. Produced by AstraZeneca-Oxford, the vaccine follows the standard recombinant vector technology found in many vaccines that place virus cells onto another virus. 

The CDC made a formal recommendation on Dec. 1 that placed healthcare and frontline workers at the top of the list to get the first available doses of the COVID-19 vaccination, as they belong to the most frequently exposed group. Those who live in long-term care facilities and retirement homes remain at the top of the list as well, as many of the elderly people who occupy the centers remain at high risk if they contract COVID-19. 

Essential workers follow shortly after, as they also work in environments where they may come in frequent contact with COVID-19. These include those who work in transportation, education, food and utilities, as well as police officers, firefighters and corrections officers.

Individuals with underlying medical conditions that make them more at-risk for a more severe case of COVID-19 follow afterwards. Those over the age of 65 also fall under this group. 

On Dec. 10, the Department of Defense released a statement announcing that they plan on working alongside the CDC to ensure that DOD personnel, who also belong to the group of essential workers, remain prioritized in the vaccine distribution process. 

In an interview with Good Morning America, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and leading member of the White House COVID-19 Taskforce, stated that private citizens who do not fall in the above categories can expect to receive the vaccine by April, May or June of 2021. 

The CDC has stated that the vaccines, pre-purchased by the U.S. government with taxpayers’ money, are available at no cost to the recipient. Insurance providers may charge an administration fee for the individual performing the injection, but insurance companies could possibly reimburse this fee. All recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine, thus far, must receive two rounds of the vaccine in order for the vaccine to sufficiently protect the individual. The administration of the first and second dose must be separated by approximately three to four weeks. 

In the U.S., all 50 states and 14 territories have received the task of managing the vaccination of their populations. Americans, most likely, cannot choose which vaccine they receive. It depends solely on availability at the time of injection. Vaccines may be received at local hospitals, state health departments, clinics and doctor’s offices, pharmacies, grocers, long-term-care facilities, military treatment centers and certain federal offices. 

For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and speak to your primary care physician.