The C.D.C. has no regulatory power to decide how the vaccine should be distributed—that authority lies with individual states—but its guidance will be key when the distribution process gets underway.
One reason for these guidelines is that supplies of the vaccine will be limited at first. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who leads the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, said in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday that Pfizer and Moderna would be able to provide an additional 60 to 70 million doses by January, in addition to some 20 to 30 million doses in December, “if all goes well.” Since each person gets two shots, that would just be enough for about 50 million people —about 20 percent of the nation’s roughly 255 million adults.
Who goes next? The New York Times reported that Department of Homeland Security has identified what it calls “Phase 1b,” a group of essential workers. numbering about 85 million Americans, that includes “teachers and others who work in schools, emergency responders, police officers, grocery workers, corrections officers, public transit workers and others whose jobs make it hard or impossible to work from home.”
After that, the vaccine would be rolled out to the general population, as more doses become available. As with the widely distributed flu shot, its expected that the COVID-19 vaccine would be administered at doctors’ offices, hospitals, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies.
Ultimately, it’s hoped that enough people will get the vaccine to create what’s called “herd immunity”—the point at which a disease stops spreading widely through a population because enough people are immune to it, either through a vaccine or by recovering from their own infection. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, has estimated that 60-70 percent of the population must be immune for that to happen and he recently predicted that point may arrive by the summer of 2021.
As for cost, it is almost certainly be distributed for free, even to those Americans who have no healthcare coverage, based a policy established by the Trump administration that Joe Biden has indicated he would continue once he officially becomes president.
But making the vaccine available—and doing so for free—is one thing. Getting most Americans to actually get it might be another. Several surveys have shown a reluctance among large portion of the population to get the vaccine. An Oct. 7-10 survey by the medical website STAT and the Harris Poll found that only 58 percent of respondents said they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available, down from 69 percent who said so in mid-August. A Gallup poll conducted at the same time found similar numbers.