The United States entered 2021 with two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use to fight the virus, and many questions swirling about the widespread distribution effort, which is already underway.
Here’s the latest on what you need to know about the vaccine rollout, as well as when and where you might get a shot (or two) in Massachusetts.
Are we already behind schedule?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 4.6 million people in the United States have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday morning. So far, the CDC reports more than 15 million doses have been distributed — federal officials had projected the United States would deliver 20 million doses before the end of 2020.
Federal data show Massachusetts has used 38 percent of its vaccine supply, injecting more than 110,000 individuals with their first dose, or 1.6 percent of the state’s population. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont have vaccinated more than 2 percent of their populations.
South Dakota has vaccinated 3 percent of its population, using more than 60 percent of its supply.
I’ve heard about Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines. Are others on the way?
Yes. Although those two companies were the first to have COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States, several others are inching closer.
There’s AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, whose vaccine candidate is in large-scale clinical trials with early results suggesting it is about 70 percent effective. (The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are both more than 90 percent effective.)
Then there is Johnson & Johnson, which is developing a vaccine with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. J&J began a large-scale trial in late September, which now has about 45,000 participants. In December, J&J said it expected to have early data from its trial by the end of January, with hopes of submitting an application for FDA emergency use authorization in February. This candidate stands out from the pack of frontrunners because it aims to offer protection from the virus after one dose instead of two (unlike Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, which made a two-dose series).
But wait, I’ve heard some people say we only have to take one of those doses?
Because of the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, there is some debate over whether the initial wave of doses should be given out in a one- or two-shot regimen. (If an organization has 100 doses, say, should health care workers inject 100 people with one dose, or 50 people with two doses?)
In the United Kingdom — where the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are authorized — health officials support giving first doses to as many people as possible, potentially extending the time between shots to as long as three months, instead of the recommended three or four weeks. They also have said they will permit the first and second doses (for an individual) to be from different vaccine manufacturers, if the matching vaccine is not available.
Pfizer told the Globe that “while decisions on alternative dosing regimens reside with health authorities,” it believes recipients should be “afforded the maximum possible protection, which means immunization with two doses of the vaccine.”
And there’s yet another idea on how to stretch the supply: The US government is considering giving some people the Moderna shot twice, but with half the normal amount each time, according to Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed.
In a statement to the Globe, Moderna did not have additional information beyond reiterating that its drug trial and authorization are based on two full doses that are 28 days apart.
In a statement Monday, the FDA said it does not recommend altering the dosing schedules it has authorized.
“We know that some of these discussions about changing the dosing schedule or dose are based on a belief that changing the dose or dosing schedule can help get more vaccine to the public faster,” the FDA said. “However, making such changes that are not supported by adequate scientific evidence may ultimately be counterproductive to public health.”
So, when can I get the vaccine in Massachusetts?
Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that Massachusetts first responders — including firefighters, police officers, and EMTs — will begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11. That group is included in the state’s first phase of distribution, which prioritized health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities.
In a slight change from the state’s vaccination priorities outlined last month, Baker also said he’ll move state residents age 75 and older to the front of the line in the second phase of inoculations, slated to begin in February.
December 2020 to January 2021 (in order of priority)
- Clinical and non-clinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-19-facing care
- Long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted-living facilities
- Police, fire, and emergency medical services
- Congregate care settings, including homeless shelters, corrections facilities, and the staff who work there
- Home-based health care workers
- Health care workers doing non-COVID-19-facing care
February 2021 to April 2021 (In order of priority)
- Individuals with 2+ comorbidities (high risk for COVID-19 complications) and residents age 75 and older
- Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers
- People age 65 and older
- People with one comorbidity
April 2021 and after
- General public
Where exactly will I get the vaccine?
The state’s newly released vaccine dashboard logs the number of vaccines distributed at various administration sites across Massachusetts. As of Dec. 29, more than 90 percent of vaccinations have been happening at hospitals, which makes sense since health care workers were prioritized in the first round.
However, the dashboard gives hints as to where others may receive their shots later down the line. The website lists commercial pharmacies, “mega sites,” colleges, schools, and primary care practices as potential locations. It also mentions “commercial vaccinators may be hired by workplaces to vaccinate employees.”
Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.