COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the country—but not every member of your family will be first to get it. Learn more about the projected timeline for receiving a coronavirus vaccination.

By Nicole Harris
Updated January 13, 2021
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As COVID-19 cases rise, it seems like the entire country is holding its breath, waiting for the latest vaccine news. "We don't know the whole story yet, and we're terribly impatient to know," says Christine Turley, M.D., Pediatrics Specialist and vice chair of research at Atrium Health Levine Children's. 

Once experts realized the widespread severity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, they rushed to develop an effective vaccine. Two options, Moderna and Pfizer, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they've both shown success rates of about 95 percent.

Parents can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing that an effective vaccine will likely become widespread in 2021, but chances are, your children won't be first in line to receive it. Keep reading to learn about the predicted timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine, who will likely get it first, and when it will be available to the general public.

Who Will Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine First?

Both Pfizer and Moderna received emergency approval from the FDA at the end of 2020, and they're being distributed across the U.S. But as of now, they're only be given to high-risk individuals. Healthcare workers are first priority. "They carry so much extra risk by virtue of their daily exposure," says Dr. Turley. Others who might qualify include nursing home residents, the elderly, those with underlying health conditions (like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes), and people with high-risk jobs (like grocery store workers and teachers).

It's essentially a game of weighing pros and cons. State and local governments must determine that the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the potential risks, based on available safety data. "There are limited doses of the vaccine, so we need to prioritize those with highest risk of severe COVID-19 complications," explains Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network and co-investigator on the vaccine trials.

When Will My Family Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine?

There's no clear answer, because doses are limited and researchers are still compiling safety data. Dr. Turley and Dr. Parikh are both hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine will be approved for community use by the middle of 2021. But they aren't sure who, exactly, will be able to receive it then.

As of now, the clinical trials have only included healthy adults. Children have been noticeably missing—although Pfizer and Moderna recently announced they're including kids 12 and up in their trials. Pfizer's vaccine is currently approved for those age 16 and older, while Moderna's can be given to people age 18 and older.

Why have children been excluded from trials? It's partly for ethical reasons because kids can't fully comprehend and consent to the trials. Also, children have different bodies and immune systems than adults, so experts want to understand safety risks thoroughly before undergoing pediatric testing.

Pregnant women and certain high-risk individuals have also been missing from the trials (but we're expecting to see their reactions to the vaccine through emergency use authorizations).

It's possible that the vaccine will be approved for everyone—including children—in  the middle of 2021. But it's also possible that the FDA will conduct more testing first, which might delay availability to certain groups. We won't know for sure until more data is released in the coming months.

Is the Vaccine Safe for My Family?

Thanks to the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, many people are understandably worried. But Dr. Turley stresses that all safety procedures have been properly followed in the clinical trials, and only the administrative components have been sped up. “The FDA worked closely with vaccine experts to study a vaccine design for COVID-19,” she says. “Trial design usually takes a long time, which contributes to a long time for vaccine approval, but this was all discussed before we even had a candidate.” 

Dr. Parikh also stresses that you shouldn't fear vaccines with FDA approval. "When a vaccine is approved, and if you are in a high-risk group such as a healthcare worker, or you have a high-risk medical condition, discuss with your physician if the vaccine is appropriate for you," she says. "Do not be fearful of the vaccine if you are recommended to get it, as risk of infection may outweigh any risks from the vaccine." Widespread vaccination will help stop COVID-19 in its tracks, letting everyone get back to life as we knew it. 

Will The Vaccine Be Effective?

Both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses (Pfizer's second dose is given three weeks after the first one, while Moderna's is given four weeks afterward). Research shows that the first dose is about 50 percent effective against the coronavirus. The second dose increases the efficiency to about 95 percent—but only after your immune system kicks in. According to PEOPLE, you will reach peak protection about two weeks after the second dose.

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