COVID-19 News & Updates: Get the latest on vaccine development and more.

COVID-19 Vaccine Updates

Last updated: Dec. 2, 2020 — 10:00 a.m. EST

Your trusted resource for COVID-19 vaccine information.

Because of the importance of a vaccine, we expect this to be among the most pressing issues on your mind, and we are committed to being your trusted resource as this unfolds. Until we know more about each vaccine, we'll be honest. There are more questions than answers, but here's what we expect at this time. 

What We Know Right Now

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What vaccines are approved?

None yet, but early data from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines are promising. Pfizer's and Moderna's early data suggested their vaccines could be more than 90% effective.

AstraZeneca saw varied results depending on how the vaccine was administered — a half-dose followed by a full dose could be 90% effective, while two full doses given one month apart could be 62% effective.

All are above the FDA's goal of having a 50% effective vaccine, which is why the news is so encouraging. 

Pfizer and Moderna have applied for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA. A Dec. 10 meeting has been scheduled to discuss Pfizer's application, and a Dec. 17 meeting has been scheduled to discuss Moderna's. AstraZeneca is likely to apply for an EUA soon. 

According to the New York Times Vaccine Tracker, there are 13 total vaccines in Phase III, which means they could report final (or close to final) data soon. 

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Who will receive the vaccine first?

The CDC will work closely with the health departments of each individual state to distribute vaccine supply in phases. 

On Dec. 4, a CDC advisory panel recommended for health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be offered the vaccine first. These groups will make up "Phase 1a" and represent an estimated 24 million Americans. 

From there, additional phases will provide vaccinations to those less and less at risk. The general population can expect to have access possibly in late spring 2021. 

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Where will vaccines be available?

Vaccines will likely be available first through hospitals and major pharmaceutical retailers, such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. They have the capacity to store a large number of vaccine doses and administer them efficiently to the most people possible to start. 

PartnerMD has applied with the CDC to receive a supply of vaccines. However, we do not expect that we, or any other doctors offices, will receive a supply of vaccines until later in the process.

Contrary to any speculation, concierge practices will not be able to access the vaccine faster than traditional primary care practices. 

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How might a full vaccine rollout work?

A successful vaccine rollout to most of the global population is our best bet for ending the pandemic. However, it will take time, likely several months into 2021. Here's how it might play out. 

  • Step 1: Vaccine Approvals

  • Step 2: Vaccine Delivery

  • Step 3: Vaccination Begins - Phase 1

  • Step 4: Vaccination Continues - Phase II & Phase III

  • Step 5: Monitoring

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Step 1: Vaccine Approvals

Pfizer and Moderna have applied for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA. AstraZeneca is expected to apply for their own EUAs soon.

As more vaccines finish their trials and report results, they could also apply for EUAs in order to get the vaccine to market quickly.

What is an emergency use authorization?

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COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Step 2: Vaccine Delivery

It is likely that each vaccine will need to be delivered and stored in a different way. For example, Pfizer's vaccine must be stored in a freezer at around -80 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna's vaccine is able to be stored in a refrigerator for up to 30 days. AstraZeneca's vaccine can reportedly be stored in a standard refrigerator for up to 6 months. 

Given the limited amount of vaccine doses available at approval, it will likely take several weeks, at the least, for any vaccine to become widely available throughout the U.S. 

Read the article below to get an idea of how Pfizer is planning to distribute its vaccine. 

NYT: How Pfizer Will Distribute Its Vaccine (It's Complicated)

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Step 3: Vaccination Begins - Phase 1

Once a vaccine is approved and delivered, vaccinations can begin in earnest. Because of the need to vaccinate so many people, most initial vaccines will be delivered to hospitals and major pharmaceutical retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS.

These facilities can handle both large quantities of vaccines and efficiently vaccine large numbers of people.

AP: Who will be the first to get COVID vaccine?

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Step 4: Vaccination Continues - Phase II & Phase III

Once the most at-risk individuals are vaccinated, vaccines will become available to the rest of the population, in decreasing order of risk. If you are older with no comorbidities (obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) or younger with comorbidities, you will likely be eligible for the vaccine next following the most at-risk individuals. 

Once we move past vaccinating the initial population that is most at-risk and move lower on the risk profile, the process will likely slow down due to the sheer volume of people getting vaccinated. 

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Step 5: Monitoring

Once we vaccinate enough of the population to dramatically slow the virus (which will be one of the defining feats of our time), then it is time to monitor. 

How long does immunity last? Figuring that out will take time, years probably, but it will tell us if we need to do this annually or not. 

COVID-19 monitoring after vaccination

COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

How many vaccine doses will initially be distributed? 

Most estimates expect the United States will have access to around 20 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020. Because each vaccine requires two doses, that would be around 10 million people vaccinated. 

Virginia has said it expects to receive 70,000 doses initially. Maryland believes it will receive 155,000 initial doses. Georgia and South Carolina have yet to announce an expected number. 

How are the vaccines administered? 

Each of the three promising vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca) require that the patient receive two shots in the arm. It is expected that the second will need to be delivered 3-4 weeks after the first. 

How long until the vaccines are effective? 

A typical vaccine takes about two weeks to be fully effective in our bodies. That's why, for example, it's often recommended to wait until October to get a flu vaccine, so you have the most potent vaccine working during the most critical time.

How long will immunity last from the vaccines? 

We don't know yet. That will take a long time to definitively figure out. All vaccine trials will continue to monitor their participants over the coming months and years to establish that. 

What are the side effects of the vaccines? 

None of the promising vaccines have indicated significant safety concerns to date. 

For the Pfizer vaccine, side effects included low-grade fever, fatigue, headache, and joint pain. 

For the Moderna vaccine, side effects were pain at the injection site, fatigue, aching muscles and joints, and short-lived headaches. 

Side effects for the AstraZeneca vaccine have yet to be reported, although they did report "no serious safety events" in connection with the vaccine. 

What is an mRNA vaccine? 

Vaccines developed using messenger RNA technology differ from traditional vaccines. Traditional vaccines rely on the body's natural defense reactions when a small quantity of live or dead virus is introduced to the body. A vaccine made from mRNA uses a snippet of DNA from the virus to elicit a similar defense reaction in the body. 

Where can I get more information about COVID-19 testing, office visits, and telehealth appointments at PartnerMD? 

See our dedicated COVID-19 page for more detailed information on these areas and more. 

Recommended Reading

Looking for more? Find links to the articles and source materials our doctors are using to follow the latest news and developments surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and distribution. 

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Weekly COVID Updates

Get the latest news from a PartnerMD physician, every Wednesday at 1:00 pm eastern on Facebook Live.

Watch a recording of the most recent event below.