Everyone wants to know: When can I get the COVID vaccine?

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James Kerr, an EMT with Emergency Medical Staffing Solutions, enters the Chester County Public Health Department’s health clinic to receive the Moderna vaccine. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

James Kerr, an EMT with Emergency Medical Staffing Solutions, enters the Chester County Public Health Department’s health clinic to receive the Moderna vaccine. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Now that there is a COVID-19 vaccine, millions of Americans want to know one thing: When can I get it? WHYY’s Health Desk Help Desk has been flooded with these questions for weeks.

It’s hard to nail down a date for any individual — availability of the vaccine and the speed with which it’s been administered have so far been a moving target. Still, the queues for the three states in our region are starting to come into focus.

All three states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, have already laid out their plans. But overlapping criteria may make figuring out your own eligibility tricky. Here are a few questions we’ve received:

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My mother is 84 and a resident of a large retirement facility in Pennsylvania. She lives in the independent section, but she has asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). She owns a second home in Delaware and she’s been there since May. So when can she get the vaccine in Delaware?

Probably soon. According to the guidelines for Delaware (and Pennsylvania and New Jersey), as a resident of a retirement community but living independently, she would be eligible in Phase 1b. That is, after health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities. It probably does depend on how her retirement facility is designated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a recent recommendation to all states that anyone over 75 be included in Phase 1b. Delaware is taking that guidance a step further, including anyone over 65 in that phase.

Where do I turn? I’m 58 years old, a home health care worker in a senior-living apartment high-rise, not a nursing home. I am overweight, diabetic and hypertensive. Am I going to get the vaccine soon?

Yes, probably very soon. First priority is going to health care workers who are dealing with COVID-19 patients, but all the states are making sure that every health care worker, including home health care workers, are in Phase 1a across our region. Anyone with serious medical conditions is considered a top priority following health care workers, long-term care residents, essential workers, and those over 75.

I am 68 years old with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. I think that puts me in Phase 1b for the COVID vaccine. How will eligibility for those in Phase 1b be determined?

Those over 65, regardless of underlying medical conditions, are eligible for Phase 1b in Delaware. In Pennsylvania, the person would be eligible for Phase 1b based on Type 2 diabetes, but not based on high blood pressure (that’s designated for Phase 2).

Why a phase may not be your phase

It’s worth noting that these age limits and categories can place those with seemingly similar physical conditions into different phases of the vaccine rollout.

Take me, Shai, for example.

I’m 40 years old and I have asthma. According to the guidelines in Pennsylvania, where I live, either of these categories places me into Phase 2, ahead of the general population (as long as I can claim my asthma is moderate or severe). Compare that to my wife, who is 39 and doesn’t have asthma or any other underlying health condition. Neither of us is considered an essential worker.

Even without asthma, the one year I’ve got on her bumps me up in line, though it’s still not clear whether Phase 2 will be tiered like Phase 1 is, perhaps making a 60-year-old with underlying conditions more of a priority than I am.

For more questions about your eligibility for the COVID vaccine, check out the Health Desk Help Desk.

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