COVID-19 vaccine: What to know about hidden costs, when you’ll get it, more

Katie Conner

COVID-19 vaccines could arrive by the end of 2020.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The US is preparing for tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to arrive by the end of 2020, and you have questions. How many vaccinations will there be and how will it be administered? Is it completely free or will you have to pay? How long will you personally have to wait to receive it, and can you choose which brand of vaccine you get?  

Here’s everything we know so far about the coronavirus vaccine and what you can expect when it arrives.

Keep track of the coronavirus pandemic.

How many coronavirus vaccines will there be?

Dozens of vaccine candidates are in development around the world, but two of them, Pfizer and Moderna, claim to be 95% and 94% effective, respectively, against the coronavirus. Both have sought emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration to get vaccines rolling out as early as the end of December. 

Pfizer and Moderna both use a type of vaccine technology that focuses on the mRNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that’s the coronavirus’ official name). Expect other types of vaccines to emerge, like from Novavax and AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University. Dozens more are in development besides, and different countries may use different vaccine formulations from different makers.

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How many doses of the vaccine will be available right away?

Pfizer and Moderna are ramping up production, but we do know that initially there will be up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 from Pfizer and 20 million doses from Moderna. In 2021, we can expect to see 1.3 billion from Pfizer and anywhere from 500 million to 1 billion doses from Moderna.

After the initial vaccine, a second dose will be required after a set period of weeks (depending on which vaccine you get, it could be three or four weeks). This is required for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. As a result, 20 million doses, for example, can vaccinate 10 million people. The US has a population of roughly 330 million.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine a shot or something else?

The current immunization works as a series of two injections administered a number of weeks apart for the full inoculation to take place. There may in the future be another way to get vaccinated, such as an infusion, in which the vaccine is delivered intravenously, or an adhesive patch that you affix to your skin for a period of time.

You’ll need to get two coronavirus vaccine doses, weeks apart.

Sarah Tew/CNET
When will I be able to get the vaccine? Is there an order to who receives it first?

Yes. Since the doses are so limited, states will prioritize which groups of people will be first in line to get the COVID-19 immunization. An advisory group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a recommendation, which the CDC could adopt. But each state will have the final word.

Every major global and domestic recommendation so far puts health care workers at the top of that list, with the general population last in line. Depending on who you are, you may have to wait until spring or summer, when there are enough vaccines to go around, in order to be immunized. Here’s a more complete list of who will likely receive the COVID-19 vaccine first (and last).

How will I know when I can get vaccinated? What do I do while I wait for a vaccine to arrive?

Your state and local health provider will start to communicate who can get immunized against COVID-19 first and how to do it. We’ll keep an eye out for more details and will update this section when we know more.

In the meantime, health experts stress that you should continue to wear a face mask, socially distance from people outside your household and wash your hands to slow the spread of disease. The US is currently over 14 million reported cases, with more than 276,000 known deaths, as infections continue to surge alongside record-breaking hospitalizations.

Can I choose which coronavirus vaccine I get?

It’s uncertain if you’ll have your choice of which vaccine brand or type you’ll get. This may depend on how many doses of the vaccine are available in your area and where in line you are to receive it. 

It also depends on if you live near a medical center with “medical-grade ultracold freezers,” USA Today reports, as the Pfizer vaccine must be kept in cold, dry ice temperatures. The Moderna vaccine, on the other hand, can be stored at temperatures between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days, making it much more easily accessible.

Note that once you get the first vaccine shot, you’ll have to stick with that brand for the second shot.

Everyone in the US could be vaccinated by June.

Sarah Tew/CNET
When will the vaccine be available for everyone?

Everyone in the US could be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June, according to Moncef Slaoui, the top science advisor for the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, expects anyone to have access to the vaccine between April and June of 2021.

When you get the coronavirus vaccine, however, will depend on which group you fall in. You could get it in January if you’re a health care worker, or you may have to wait until June if you’re a younger adult with no preexisting conditions.

How much will the coronavirus vaccine cost me?

Regardless if you have health insurance or not, the COVID-19 vaccine will be free for all Americans, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The government organization also said it plans to make sure you can reimburse any FDA-approved coronavirus treatments you’re charged for. 

But just because the vaccine itself is free doesn’t mean you won’t get a bill. Many providers can legally charge an administration fee for giving the shot to patients, according to the CDC. You can file a claim with your insurance company, however, since they’re required to cover approved preventive care under the Affordable Care Act. 

Read more: Vaccine for COVID-19 may be free, but you could still see a bill. Here’s what we know

Even if you get the vaccine, you should still wear a mask, per CDC guidelines.

Anne Dujmovic/CNET
Where can I get the vaccine once it’s here? Does it have to be at a hospital?

Much like the flu vaccine, you’ll likely be able to get the coronavirus vaccine at pharmacy stores, clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices and health departments. A Walgreen’s representative told CNET its pharmacies would be distributing COVID-19 vaccines to customers, but didn’t say when.

It’s also likely that schools and community centers will serve as vaccination sites in the beginning, in order to accommodate more people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The organization also says the states will need to approve “hundreds to thousands of partners and site locations for vaccine delivery.”

What happens after I get the COVID-19 vaccine? Can I go wherever I want?

Once you get the first coronavirus vaccine, you’ll receive a vaccination card that details which shot you received and when you need to go back for the second.

After you receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends that you continue practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when you’re out in public. The CDC says it’s important to do so while “experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions.”

Even though scientific evidence so far shows reinfection is uncommon, there’s still much we don’t know about the new virus. That’s why it’s important to follow the CDC’s guidelines for protecting yourself and others from the coronavirus, whether you’ve had the vaccine or not.

For more coronavirus vaccine information, here’s everything to know about the coronavirus vaccines rolling out this year and the CDC’s priority list for who will get the vaccine first.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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