Updated November 5, 2020
Currently, there is no authorized or approved vaccine for COVID-19. Multiple vaccines are under development and several are in large scale clinical trials with tens of thousands of volunteers to ensure they are both safe and effective. Critical and unbiased evaluation of these new vaccines for their safety and effectiveness is an essential step in the process. While we wait for vaccines to be approved, Public Health – Seattle & King County is working with the Washington State Department of Health on plans, procedures, and systems for eventual vaccine distribution.
- COVID-19 vaccine will not be widely available until 2021. Eventually everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.
- The first supplies of vaccine will be limited and given first to specific groups at highest risk, such as healthcare workers and people in nursing homes.
- When vaccine is widely available, healthcare clinics, pharmacies, and drive-through and walk-through clinics will likely provide vaccinations.
- COVID vaccine will be covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance, and the cost of the vaccine will be covered for people who are uninsured.
- Vaccine safety is a priority. All COVID-19 vaccines must go through a rigorous and multi-step testing and approval process before they can be used. They will only be approved if they pass safety and effectiveness standards. Vaccines will also be monitored for safety once they are given.
- Only licensed and trained health professionals can give vaccinations.
COVID-19 vaccine may be available in limited quantities before the end of 2020 but will not be more widely available until 2021. The timeline for when vaccine is available is dependent on the results of the clinical trials that are currently underway.
Eventually everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. However, when the vaccine is first available there will be limited supply. This means that the vaccine initially will be limited to specific populations that are at highest risk of either getting COVID-19 or having serious health problems if they are infected with COVID-19, such as healthcare workers, older adults living in nursing or assisted-living facilities, and other essential workers. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (“the National Academies”) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will provide input and recommendations to the CDC about how to prioritize a limited vaccine supply.
The Washington State Department of Health will use guidance from the CDC, the National Academies, and the ACIP to develop a COVID-19 vaccine distribution framework for our state. This framework will outline how the vaccine will be prioritized and given out. It will also identify critical populations recommended for vaccination in each phase of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
When limited supplies of the vaccine first become available, the vaccine distribution framework for Washington state will likely recommend that some groups get vaccinated first, such as frontline healthcare workers. These groups will likely receive the vaccine at locations that are not open to the general public, such as at their place of work or possibly in long term care facilities.
Once the vaccine is available to the general public, traditional locations such as health clinics and pharmacies will likely provide vaccinations. Vaccinations may also be given at non-traditional locations such as drive-through or walk-up vaccination events at community spaces (like community centers, schools, or places of worship). All vaccination locations will take additional safety measures for COVID-19, including physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and extra sanitation steps.
- COVID vaccine will be covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance, and the cost of the vaccine will be covered for people who are uninsured. There may be a copay or office visit fee, depending on your insurance plan or the doctor you see to get vaccinated.
- Public Health also is planning opportunities for low-cost or free vaccination clinics. We will focus on equitable distribution and access to the vaccine within King County and plans to work with many partners and leaders to ensure all those that want to receive a vaccine can get it.
Public Health – Seattle & King County supports safeguards to ensure that vaccines meet standards for safety and effectiveness. These measures include:
- Clinical trials:
COVID-19 vaccines must go through rigorous clinical trials in which many thousands of study participants receive the vaccine. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates the scientific data from these studies to determine the safety and effectiveness of each vaccine. FDA relies on input from an advisory group of outside scientists and experts, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) to provide an objective and thorough analysis of safety and effectiveness. VRBPAC also makes recommendations to FDA about vaccine approval. This is a transparent process because VRBPAC meetings are open to the public.
If a vaccine meets the FDA's safety and effectiveness standards, the FDA can make the vaccines available for use in the U.S. by traditional licensure or emergency use authorization.
After the FDA makes its determination, a second independent advisory body of outside immunization experts, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, will review the vaccine's safety and effectiveness data and make recommendations to the CDC with guidance for healthcare providers and the public about the use of the vaccine.
- Vaccine Safety Monitoring:
After a vaccine is authorized for use, multiple safety monitoring systems are in place to watch for possible side effects. If an unexpected serious side effect is detected, experts work as quickly as possible to determine whether it is a true safety concern. This serves as an ongoing evaluation of safety even after the clinical trials are completed. For COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC and FDA have expanded safety monitoring systems to carefully evaluate safety in real-time and make sure the COVID-19 vaccines are as safe as possible.
- Some vaccine formulations may require more than one dose.
Multiple formulations (different products) of vaccine are under development. How the vaccine is made, the number of doses required to provide protection against the COVID-19 virus, and which populations can receive it can be different depending on the type of vaccine. Therefore, it is still unknown how many doses will be needed. Some of the vaccine candidates currently in trials require two doses, and some require one.
- Only licensed and trained health professionals can give vaccinations.
Only individuals who are licensed and trained to administer vaccines will be able to provide vaccination. Once the vaccine is more widely available to the general public, many different types of healthcare providers will provide vaccine in order to make the vaccine accessible for all who are interested in receiving it. These providers may administer vaccine both in clinics and hospitals and at more mobile or pop-up events in the community.
- Will a vaccine end the pandemic?
A safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 will be a major breakthrough in preventing COVID-19 infections but needs to be used in combination with other prevention measures. Vaccine alone won't end the pandemic right away. For this reason, even after a vaccine is available, it will be necessary to continue with the core COVID-19 safety precautions including limiting activities outside the home, physical distancing, and mask wearing for the foreseeable future as we learn more about how long the protection lasts and as more people become protected through vaccination over time.