Vaccine doses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are available only to health-care workers and nursing home residents right now, but it may be just weeks before other groups could begin to get in line.
Here’s what we know (which isn’t all that much) and what we don’t know (quite a bit more) about the future of vaccination in our region:
What’s gone into the COVID-19 vaccine? Is it safe?
There are two vaccines being distributed right now, one a joint effort from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna. Both differ from traditional vaccines, which introduce a weakened or inactivated form of the virus to trigger an immune response that the human body “remembers” when exposed to the full-blown virus. These new COVID-19 vaccines introduce instead genetic material, RNA, that teaches the body to manufacture itself a fragment on the coronavirus. The end result is the same, an immune response that teaches the body to reject the real viral deal.
Both vaccines are 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections after two doses, given about three weeks apart from each other.
Though they were developed at record speed, experts say this is because of the massive international effort that went into the project, plus earlier developments in RNA technology, not because of any shortcuts. Clinical trials included more than 70,000 people.
When will I be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
It depends on your job, age, health, and exposure risk. If you aren’t a health-care worker or nursing home resident, you aren’t yet eligible and you’ll have to wait for more clarity from government officials. When the states receive enough vaccine doses to open up the next phase of vaccinations, there will be more information available for people who are eligible about how to sign up for a shot. Right now, health officials are saying vaccination of health-care workers could be largely complete by early to mid-February, though there’s no guarantee.
» READ MORE: Your vaccine questions, answered.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey have confirmed that the next round of vaccine doses will go to essential workers (food and agriculture workers, manufacturers, frontline workers like police and firefighters, transit workers, teachers, grocery store employees) and people 75 and older — as recommended in federal guidance. The next tier of those eligible is expected to be people ages 65 to 74, and other adults with high-risk health conditions.
How will I know when it’s my turn?
That’s still unclear. On Tuesday, New Jersey launched a website portal that will inform residents when and where they can get vaccinated. By Wednesday, more than 450,000 Garden States had signed up. (Pennsylvania has not launched any statewide sign-up tool.) Philadelphia officials have partnered with Philly Fighting COVID to create a website for all Philadelphians who want the vaccine to “pre-commit” to getting the shot. Because vaccine supplies are limited and the city is still working its way through distribution tiers, people who sign up will not immediately be given an appointment, but they will receive updates on the vaccine distribution process and when it’s their turn. Chester and Delaware Counties have also established a digital portal where people eligible under the 1b designation can enter your information and be alerted when your turn arrives, available at www.chesco.org/224/Health. Others have yet to finalize a sign-up or alert system. Generally, governments are asking residents to keep an eye on their health department websites for further instruction, and say they plan messaging campaigns to alert people when they have more vaccine doses.
Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
When the vaccine is widely available, it is likely that doses will be supplied by some combination of hospitals, private medical practices, pharmacies, and government-established vaccination centers. New Jersey has established a statewide preregistration system at covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine. Health officials expect to conduct informational outreach and some mobile vaccination clinics, but will be looking to members of the public to be aware of who is eligible for vaccine doses and be proactive about getting involved in the process.
Why are there so many unanswered questions?
Tell us about it. The vaccine rollout has been rocky at best, with problems ranging from not enough supply being shipped to delays in getting doses into arms. Experts blame factors including the fact that the vaccines were approved just before the holidays, and that health-care workers are already overburdened with treating patients and testing potential patients for the virus. Health officials are hopeful that as vaccine production ramps up, and other brands are approved for use, there will be enough supply available, perhaps by spring, to make this a much easier process. They envision in the coming year a time where people can get vaccine shots at pharmacies or doctors’ offices as easily as we currently get flu shots. We are simply not there yet, and more information will become available as things change.
Hang in, follow the news, stay in touch with your doctor, keep wearing your masks and social distancing, and we’ll make it out of this yet.