Updated: Jan. 21, 2021
Thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been administered throughout the region, despite widespread delays in federal rollout and local distribution. Thousands more are on their way. And with the holidays over, officials say, vaccination efforts are expected to ramp up.
So we’re all wondering: When will it be my turn?
WHYY’s Health Desk Help Desk has fielded dozens of questions about when individual readers and listeners can expect to be eligible for the vaccine. It’s hard to pin down a specific answer for any one person because of overlapping priority groups, changing state guidance in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and the aforementioned vaccine delays. But here’s an interactive guide that might help you determine the answer.
Answer the following questions by clicking each link for yes or no. Each link will either send you to your result or to the next question.
When will you be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine?
Are you a health care worker (hospital, urgent care, health center or clinic, long-term care facility, dental, pharmacy, emergency services, etc.)?
Are you an essential worker, as designated by your state? If yes, are you working in a critical infrastructure industry with high risk of exposure, such as food processing, education, public transportation, police and fire, etc.?
- Yes, in a high risk or critical infrastructure industry >>
- Yes, but not in a high risk or critical infrastructure industry >>
- No, I’m not >>
Are you currently living in a long-term care facility (e.g. a nursing home)?
Are you 65 or older?
Are you currently living in a congregate setting (e.g. homeless shelter, correctional facility, detention center, group home, etc)?
Are you immunocompromised, and/or do you have any chronic or underlying medical conditions (cancer, diabetes, COPD, severe obesity, sickle cell, lung/heart/kidney disease, etc.)?
Results: Which vaccine group are you in?
Health care worker
Del. phase 1A, N.J. phase 1A, Pa. phase 1A, Philadelphia phase 1A
Good news: As a health care worker, you’re among those prioritized to get the vaccine; the first round of vaccinations began in hospitals around the region just a few weeks ago. That said, each hospital is receiving a limited amount of doses, and most are prioritizing those with the highest risk of direct exposure to COVID (e.g. emergency and COVID unit workers). Your best bet for finding out where you stand in that line — and when you’ll get the vaccine — is to check directly with your place of work.
Essential worker – Critical
Del. phase 1B, N.J. phase 1B, Pa. phase 1B, Philadelphia phase 1B and 1C
As an essential worker in a critical infrastructure industry who may be routinely exposed to COVID-19 on the job, you’re within the second group of the first phase of vaccine distribution. Once availability expands, you’ll be some of the next in line to get the vaccine, probably sometime in early 2021; if you’re in law enforcement, a fire professional, or other kind of first responder, it may already be available.
Not sure whether you’re an essential worker, or whether your industry is considered part of critical infrastructure? Priority groups may still be subject to change, but in the meantime you can consult your state’s guidance: Officials are still finalizing the groups for each phase, but in the meantime, you can consult your state’s guidance here: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, which has separate guidance from the rest of the state, has worker priority groups listed here).
Resident in long-term care
Del. phase 1A, N.J. phase 1A, Pa. phase 1A, Philadelphia phase 1A
As a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility, you’re also in the early phase of vaccine distribution in the region. As health care workers are vaccinated, you’ll be the next in line — depending on your state’s distribution, that could be as early as this month. ((In Delaware, distribution to long-term care facilities began Dec 17; In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, vaccination of staff and residents at long-term care facilities began Dec 28.)
Priority population: Elderly
Del. phase 1B, N.J. phase 1B, Pa. phase 1A (currently for those 65+), Philadelphia phase 1B (for those 75+) and 1C (for those 65-74)
Your work may not qualify you for the top of the list when it comes to vaccine distribution, but as someone age 65 or older and therefore more vulnerable to severe effects of COVID-19, you’re still likely to be prioritized in the first phase, after the vaccine becomes more widely available. Right now, most state officials are predicting that access starting in spring 2021.
*Note: If you live in Philadelphia and are between the ages of 65 and 74, but are immunocompromised with chronic or underlying medical conditions that put you at increased risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19 (cancer, diabetes, COPD, severe obesity, sickle cell, lung/heart/kidney disease, etc.), you may qualify for phase 1B.
Priority population: Immunocompromised person, congregate settings
Del. phase 1C, N.J. phases 1B (for immunocompromised) and 1A (for high risk congregate settings), PA phase 1A (for those with high risk medical conditions), and 1B (for congregate settings), Philadelphia phase 1B
Your work may not qualify you for the top of the list when it comes to vaccine distribution, but as someone within a critical population — immunocompromised, with certain high-risk medical conditions, or living in a congregate setting — you’re likely to be prioritized in the first phase or early in the second, once the vaccine becomes more widely available. Right now, most state officials are predicting vaccine access starting in spring 2021.
Essential worker – Non-critical
Del. phases 1C and 2 (tentative), N.J. phase 1C, Pa. phase 1B and 1C, Philadelphia phase 1C
As an essential worker, but not one working in a critical infrastructure industry routinely exposed to COVID, your risk of exposure to coronavirus isn’t as high. That means you’re likely to be prioritized in later groups, once the vaccine becomes more widely available. We’ll have more details about those groups soon — and it’s important to check your state or city guidance, since the categorization for essential workers differs between each one — but right now, most state officials are predicting vaccine access starting around spring 2021.
*Note: Depending on your state or city, if you are immunocompromised with chronic or underlying medical conditions that put you at increased risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19 (cancer, diabetes, COPD, severe obesity, sickle cell, lung/heart/kidney disease, etc.), or if you are living in a high-risk congregate setting like a group home or correctional facility, you may qualify for an earlier phase.
Not sure whether you’re an essential worker, or whether your industry is considered part of critical infrastructure? Priority groups may still be subject to change, but in the meantime you can consult your state’s guidance: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, which has separate guidance from the rest of the state, has worker priority groups listed here).
Del. phases 2 and 3, N.J. phase 2, Pa. phase 2, Philadelphia phase 2
As a member of the general public, you aren’t at highest risk for COVID-19 — which also means that you aren’t within the first few priority groups for vaccinations. You’ll have access to the COVID-19 vaccine once health care workers, essential workers, and the immunocompromised and those 65 and older get vaccinated. In the meantime, you should keep taking measures to protect yourself and loved ones from the virus. That means wearing masks, avoiding indoor gatherings, and maintaining handwashing and physical distancing whenever possible.
Scroll down for more information about the vaccine timeline.
More answers to your questions
Why don’t we have a more specific timeline?
Right now, states are hesitant to provide specific dates or even months for each stage of the vaccination process. That’s partly because it’s highly dependent on the quantity of vaccine doses that becomes available, and when. Federal officials originally promised access for the general public by summer 2021, but several states have reported delays and decreases in their shipments, and currently there’s no publicly available data on how much will be sent to each state. In Philadelphia, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley warned Tuesday that the rate at which vaccine doses are being delivered is simply “not enough” for the whole city; at its current pace, full vaccination could take over a year.
Delaware officials have said the state will be ready to vaccinate the general public through primary health care providers, health centers, and pharmacies in spring or summer 2021, and New Jersey has stated its goal is to vaccinate 70% of the adult population, 4.7 million people, within the next six months. Beyond that, regional officials haven’t offered more specific details.
This could be subject to change. Here’s why.
States’ vaccine distribution plans are dependent on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. In January, the CDC released a new recommendation on vaccine priority groups, and will probably issue more in the future. We can expect state officials to change their guidance accordingly.
And with continued delays in vaccination nationwide, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently urged states to prioritize giving the shots to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
“It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccine sit around while states try to micromanage this problem,” Azar said at an Operation Warp Speed briefing Wednesday. “Faster administration could save lives right now.”
FOR OTHER INFORMATION …
… about whether (and where) you’ll be able to sign up to receive the vaccine
In early January, New Jersey rolled out a portal where state residents could pre-register to receive the vaccine, even if they weren’t currently eligible. But after multiple users reported problems with the portal, the state’s Department of Health is advising that the general public wait to register, since the system isn’t scaled to manage so much traffic. And so far, neither Pennsylvania nor Delaware has moved to offer a similar statewide sign-up.
In individual counties, limited sign-ups are available. Burlington County allows professionals and providers in phase 1A to register for the vaccine on its website, with information sign-up — but not vaccine slots yet — for professionals in phases 1B and 1C. Bucks County has a vaccination survey on its website here, but right now it’s open only to health care personnel not affiliated with a hospital/health care system. Chester and Delaware counties recently released an online survey that allows Phase 1B priority groups to indicate interest in the vaccine, and be notified when it’s available for them. Philly Fighting COVID also runs a sign-up system where Philadelphians who want to get vaccinated can sign up to get updates about vaccine rollout; but the site is run by PFC, not city officials, and all information goes directly to the local non-profit. The city’s official sign-up system, which was launched January 21st, allows Philadelphians to express interest in getting the vaccine and will notify them when their priority group is eligible.
Still, officials indicate that it will be months before vaccines are available to the general public. That means statewide vaccine sign-ups for everyone aren’t available yet, either — it’s just too early to offer them.
… about the difference between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
The short answer is that a) the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at colder temperatures than the Moderna vaccine, meaning it’s more difficult to ship and store, and b) Moderna’s shots must be administered 28 days apart, while Pfizer’s shots only need to be 21 days apart. Both have an efficacy rate of close to 95%. Philly Voice has more details.
… about the efficacy of the vaccine, and concerns that it’s been “rushed”
As WHYY News reporter Nina Feldman explains here, the vaccine hasn’t been rushed — the technology for an mRNA vaccine has existed for a while. But a federal agency partnership called Operation Warp Speed helped to fund research and trials, which made the development process faster than it’s ever been. Plus, this pandemic has spread incredibly quickly across the nation, and, well, more infections equal faster research.
Still have questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout? Get in touch with us here.