Since becoming available mid-December, more than 19 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered throughout the country. The New York Times reports that about 16.2 million people have received one dose and an additional 2.8 million are fully vaccinated. This includes the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, both of which are mRNA vaccines administered in two doses: the Pfizer doses to be three weeks apart, and the Moderna doses a month apart.
While some citizens have expressed mistrust of the vaccines because of their rapid progression through testing, the testing process did not skip any safety measures and reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare. As Johns Hopkins researchers have outlined, the testing process progressed much more rapidly than they did for the development of past vaccines based on factors like new technologies (like the mRNA approach) and increased access to research participants who had been exposed to the virus because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread. In addition to side effects like soreness at the injection site and headaches that last no longer than two days, some have reported allergic reactions to doses in rare cases—less than seven per million doses.
While both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are administered in two doses, one of the most notable differences between the two is that the Moderna vaccines can be kept in normal freezers and do not require a super-cold transportation network, making them easier to store and transport. Both vaccines use mRNA technologies; they deliver a small piece of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA that teaches the patient’s body to produce the virus’s “spike” protein. This does not create the virus in the patient’s body, but rather triggers an immune response to the spike shape that will in turn function to fight off the virus if the patient is later exposed.
The mRNA approach is distinct from traditional vaccine approaches, which take much longer. In the past, vaccines worked by injecting dead or weakened versions of a virus into the body, which the body would identify and learn to produce immune responses to. Instead, the mRNA approach causes the body to reproduce a single part of the virus, in this case the spike shape. Because of this, the vaccine cannot cause the patient to contract COVID-19 as it does not contain infectious materials. It only triggers the body to produce harmless pieces of the COVID-19 virus. Using this approach, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have proven about 95 percent effective a month after the second dose, which allows time for the body to wholly develop its immune response to the spike protein.
Distribution of the vaccines is handled by each individual state. The CDC reports that almost 40 million doses of the vaccine (including both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) have been distributed throughout the country at rates proportional to each state’s population. Oklahoma has used about 58 percent of their 500,000 doses; 6.8 percent of the state’s population has received their first dose and 0.9 percent are fully vaccinated. The vaccine has been distributed in state-determined phases—generally favoring healthcare professionals and individuals in long-term care facilities to be the first recipients.
In Oklahoma, vaccines are currently being distributed to Phase 2 members. If not part of another group such as first responders or healthcare workers, college students will be included in the first group of Phase 3. Oklahoma residents can fill out the COVID-19 Questionnaire at https://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov to receive notification when they are eligible to receive the vaccine.
The United States’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has moved considerably slower than planned. Falling short of the initial plan to distribute 20 million vaccines by the end of 2020, the rollout has been slowed both in distributing the vaccines to states and in administering the shots. Because each state is given guidelines, but no rules, on how to distribute vaccine doses to their citizens, anything from demographic eligibility to confusion about how to administer the vaccine have caused confusion for healthcare providers, hospitals and communities. While states like Texas have reported fewer people signing up to receive the vaccine than expected, some in Florida have waited in lines overnight to receive vaccines on a first-come first-served basis. Due to this confusion, many vaccines have expired before being administered as states struggle to sort out the logistics of their distribution.
President Joe Biden has presented a plan to administer one million shots each day for the first hundred days of his presidency. Some officials argue that this is not ambitious enough and will continue to leave many doses unused. Biden has also asked Congress for $20 million to expand vaccination centers. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have pledged to deliver 200 million doses to the U.S. by the end of March, a rate of approximately 18 million each week. As the country jointly struggles to acquire enough vaccines to distribute to the entire population and states continue to attempt organized and effective distribution, it is imperative that we continue to use safe practices like social distancing and masks to keep ourselves and each other safe.