COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Safety FAQs

Q: What is Operation Warp Speed's role with COVID-19 vaccines?

A: Operation Warp Speed is a partnership among components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense to help develop, make, and distribute millions of vaccine doses for COVID-19 as quickly as possible while ensuring that the vaccines are safe and that they work.

Q: What is the timing for the rollout of the vaccine?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the initial allotment of 20 million doses of the vaccine be distributed to states by population. It has suggested that Phase 1 distribution include December vaccinations of healthcare workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 2 distribution would follow with vaccines for workers in essential and critical industries, people with underlying health issues, and those 65 years and older. During Phase 3, the general public would begin receiving the vaccines, most likely in early spring 2021. State governors have created distribution plans unique to each state.

Q: What facilities will get the vaccines first?

A: Because of the freezer requirements of the Pfizer vaccines, Phase 1 distribution will be limited to hospitals, state health departments, and facilities that have medical-grade freezers. Doctors' offices and pharmacies that have medical-grade freezers may also get allotments of the Pfizer vaccine in Phases 2 and 3. Since Moderna's vaccine does not include the freezing requirement, it will likely be more available in suburban and rural areas.

Q: Will there be enough of the vaccine for everyone?

A: Pfizer will have 100 million doses available by March 2021 and 50 million doses distributed globally. Moderna will have 20 million doses available in 2020 and another 85 to 100 million doses available in 2021. AstraZeneca also has a promising vaccine that is a candidate for FDA emergency use authorization. Individuals need two doses of the vaccine for maximum effectiveness. There are 250 million adults in the U.S. so 500 million doses will likely be needed to vaccinate everyone 18 and up.

Q: How safe are the vaccines?

A: All three vaccines have undergone rigorous FDA testing for several months to gain emergency use authorization. The Pfizer and Moderna trials included two months of data on at least 35,000 participants. Emergency use authorization does not mean the FDA cut corners in the trials. It simply means that the usually bureaucratic nature of the testing was removed in order to expedite approval of the vaccines. No safety concerns have been revealed in the three major candidate companies' testing. The FDA granted the Pfizer vaccine emergency use authorization on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 18. Testing for children and pregnant women will commence shortly.

Q: How does the vaccine work?

A: All vaccines contain "weakened or inactive parts" of an antigen, such as a formation of antibodies that battle a virus to trigger an immune response in a person's body. Newer vaccines typically produce a blueprint for producing antigens rather than the antigen itself.

Q: What side effects can I expect from the vaccine?

A: For maximum efficacy, the CDC recommends getting two doses of the vaccine, roughly 3 to 4 weeks apart, depending on the brand. All three candidate vaccines report mild to moderate side effects with the most common being pain at the injection site, fatigue, and muscle and joint aches for a day or two. People who have already had COVID-19 should also be vaccinated.

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