If you're younger than 65, and relatively healthy, don't bank on April. It could take until mid-2021 to get you your coronavirus shots.
- Both Moderna and Pfizer have recently delivered promising news that their coronavirus vaccines are highly effective, in large, diverse human trials.
- But that doesn't mean you're going to be able to get a shot before the end of 2020.
- In all likelihood, the first coronavirus vaccines will begin rolling out to frontline workers and vulnerable populations in the last days of 2020, or possibly early 2021.
- By Memorial Day in late May, it's possible that everyone in the US who wants a shot will have access.
- But even after that, it may take several months to develop enough herd immunity through vaccination to make mass gatherings safe.
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People in the US will likely have a few different, highly effective, safe coronavirus vaccines to use in 2021.
Last week, Pfizer announced its super cold vaccine was 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections. Then on Monday, Moderna chimed in with its latest trial results, showing that shot (which can be kept in the fridge for a month) is 94.5% effective.
But, don't roll up your sleeves and ready your arm for a needle just yet, or start trashing your face masks.
It will still take many more months for healthcare providers to insert these new shots into enough members of the general public to make a dent in the pandemic. Here are the key milestones to watch out for.
First, the FDA needs to grant Emergency Use Authorization
Pfizer and Moderna don't get to decide when their shots go on the market. First, they both need to pass muster with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Peter Marks, who runs the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, where coronavirus vaccines are reviewed, recently told Business Insider that the process of reviewing Pfizer and Moderna's applications for Emergency Use Authorization, fast-tracking the shots into clinics, will still take "weeks."
"We have to take the amount of time that we need to take," Marks said.
An advisory committee will review the safety data both companies have yet to submit, then vote on whether to approve the shots.
"You will see me leave if somebody said 'we're not going to look at the data, just get the thing approved,'" Marks said.
It's not clear how many weeks that process will take, but it's expected to be before the end of 2020.
Then, ethicists will decide who gets the first shots
Once vaccines are approved, an advisory group housed at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will decide who, exactly, gets to be first in line for their shots.
First doses are likely to go to four groups of people: frontline healthcare workers, essential workers, people over 65, and those with preexisting conditions who are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections.
It's likely this process will begin over the winter, possibly as early as December 2020, or January 2021.
In that phase, about 25 to 30 million Americans in the four high-priority groups could be getting vaccinated every month, Moncef Slaoui, the scientist in charge of the US government's coronavirus vaccine drive, said recently at the White House.
By springtime, vaccines could be rolling out to healthy members of the general public who aren't working on the front lines
If Slaoui's predictions hold, roughly a quarter of the US could be vaccinated by the spring. Then, shots could become more widely available to young, healthy people.
That does not mean that everyone will be able to get their coronavirus shots by April.
"It really is a bit more complicated than that," Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters on a Monday conference call, explaining that distribution will "be a graduation over a period of months."
"By the time we get through December, January, February, March, April, we hopefully will have been able to get to the people who are listed as priority people," Fauci said. "I would say starting in April, May, June, July, as we get into the late spring and early summer, that people in the so-called general population, who do not have underlying conditions or other designations that would make them priority, could get them. This does not mean that in April everybody who is going to be wanting a vaccine who is not a priority group is going to get it. It means starting at that point, you would likely begin."
By Memorial Day 2021, many Americans will likely have access to coronavirus vaccines, but full coverage will require more than one shot each
By summertime 2021, it's reasonable to expect widespread vaccine access in the US. Memorial Day, on Monday, May 31, which is often considered the unofficial beginning of summer in the states, could be a benchmark moment.
"What I believe is that by Memorial Day, in the US, anybody who wants a vaccine will get a safe and efficacious vaccine," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel recently told Business Insider.
However, there is one catch. Both Moderna and Pfizer's new vaccines require people to get two shots, administered several weeks apart, in order to be fully protective against the virus. (Moderna's are administered four weeks apart, and for Pfizer's shots it's three weeks in between.)
By the end of 2021, it may be safe to host large gatherings again, if enough people get vaccinated
Both Moderna and Pfizer's new vaccines appear to be very effective. Their reported vaccine efficacy rates, at 90% or higher, mean that those shots prevent nine out of every ten infections, when vaccinated people are exposed to the virus. Those success rates are far more effective than the annual flu shot, and on par with other highly protective vaccinations which provide herd immunity, like chickenpox, measles, and polio vaccines.
More coronavirus shots are still in the works from vaccine makers including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Sanofi, and many more.
But the process of getting all these vaccines into hundreds of millions of people across the country and around the world, developing herd immunity to the coronavirus through widespread vaccination, is likely to take many, many months.
"The moment you get a vaccine doesn't mean you're going to put your mask in the trash," Maria Elena Bottazzi, a vaccine developer at Baylor College of Medicine, recently told Business Insider.
Fauci told the New York Times on Tuesday that "at least 75%, hopefully close to 80, 85%" of the country would need to be vaccinated by fall 2021, in order to get "close to some degree of normality."
"What I would like to see is the overwhelming majority of people get vaccinated so we can, essentially, really crush this outbreak," he said. "This is going to be a difficult task."
Fauci also recently told Insider that it's probably safer to wait until 2022 to schedule big weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations where crowds will congregate.
Getting "most everybody in the population" vaccinated against the coronavirus in the US "could be accomplished by the end of 2021," he said.
Andrew Dunn contributed reporting.