Who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first? What are the side effects? Your questions answered

A shot is coming to your arm soon.

Who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first? What are the side effects? Your questions answered
[Photo: Kunal Mahto/iStock]

Now that multiple vaccines are rushing toward production, it’s psychologically safe to see a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and ask some questions about when and how a vaccine might come your way. Here, we’ll try to answer a few vaccine-related questions you may be having:


Who gets the vaccine first?

Not you. Unless, that is, you are a healthcare worker or resident of a long-term care facility. They go first. Nursing home residents have made up 6% of COVID-19 cases but 40% of deaths, according to The New York Times.

So how long until laypeople get vaccinated?

Technically speaking, state heath departments can vaccinate whomever they want in whatever order they choose, and our country has some states that follow the beats of their own very special drummers. On Tuesday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel voted 13-1 to prioritize healthcare workers and long-term care residents, and many states will follow the CDC guidelines. (13-1? Who the heck did the dissenter want to receive vaccines first?* We digress.)

Okay, so how long until I get my vaccine?

Reasonably, in at least three months, and likely four to six months. The U.S. has 21 million healthcare workers, and they alone will take seven-plus weeks to vaccinate (three weeks for each of two doses, one month apart). RNA-based vaccines also need to stay much colder than standard pharmacy freezers allow, so distribution will be a challenge.

But I want my vaccine now

And I want a unicorn and a spaceship. The upside of the wait is that in the interim, tens of millions of people will receive the vaccine, allowing more time for analysis of side effects.

Are there enough dosages?

Roughly 40 million doses will be available this month, according to U.S. officials cited by The Wall Street Journal.


Could I possibly be considered a ‘healthcare worker’?

Do you work in a healthcare building with and have exposure to patients or infectious materials? Or do you want to get a job doing so ASAP? This includes janitors, healthcare students, volunteers, et cetera, according to the CDC. Again, states may come up with their own definitions.

Are there side effects?

Oh yes. Until Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—the two companies that have asked for emergency authorization for their vaccines—release full data of their later-stage trial results, we won’t know precisely how prevalent these side effects are. (Even then, until huge numbers of recipients are analyzed, the true incidence of side effects won’t be known.) Dr. Anthony Fauci summarized this situation to The Washington Post last week.

What are the side effects?

Pain or redness on your arm, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, headache, and fatigue, for one to two days. All are more likely after the second shot. Know that side effects are prevalent and significant enough that healthcare facilities are being advised to schedule their workers to have a day off after receiving the vaccine.

How much will the vaccine cost?

$0. The government is paying for the vaccine, and healthcare facilities are not allowed to charge you any fees for administering the shot. They can bill insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare for the costs of administering the vaccine, but are strictly not allowed to bill you. The Provider Relief Fund will cover the administration costs of the uninsured.

*Ah. The lone dissenter thinks that safety data is inadequate for older and fragile populations. Reasonable.