Pfizer's world headquarters - Wikimedia

Pfizer’s world headquarters in New York City. The FDA announced Dec. 8 that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine meets the necessary criteria for emergency authorization.

For many, the COVID-19 vaccine has felt like the light at the end of the tunnel, a bright spot that for so long seemed out of reach.

But now, with a COVID-19 vaccine expected to reach Vermont in a week’s time, you might have questions about who will receive it and how it works.

Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said during the state’s bi-weekly press conference Tuesday that while they are optimistic, it’s also important to keep reasonable expectations.

“Vaccines will not provide instantaneous relief,” Scott said. “It will be many months before we receive enough for everyone.”

“Expectations are high, so I want one thing to be clear from the start,” Levine said. “We are in the very first stages of vaccine production and distribution to the states.”

Here are some frequently asked questions, answered.

How many vaccines have been developed and have any been approved?

In the U.S., 13 vaccines have entered Phase 3 trials, according to the New York Times. None are yet authorized for widespread use, but in November, both Moderna and Pfizer announced vaccines that were about 90 percent effective.

The FDA announced Dec. 8 that Pfizer’s meets the necessary criteria for emergency authorization. It could be approved as early as this weekend, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On Monday, the vaccine produced by Pfizer began being administered to those most vulnerable in the U.K.

How do the vaccines work?

Both the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two injections. Pfizer’s must be administered 21 days apart, and Moderna’s 28 days apart.

While the first shot starts building protection, the second reinforces that protection, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines need to be kept extremely cold. Pfizer’s must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius and Moderna’s at minus 20 Celsius.

These temperatures are required because the vaccines turn the body’s messenger RNA, or mRNA, into factories that make one particular coronavirus protein. Cold temperatures help ensure these mRNA do not degrade, according to a Nov. 17 NPR article.

When is Vermont expected to get the vaccine?

The Vermont Department of Health said it could receive its initial vaccine supply by next week, as early as Dec. 15.

“This timeline is not promised and could shift, but I am optimistic,” Levine said Tuesday.

So far, Vermont has ordered 5,850 doses of the vaccine and will continue to place orders every week. Levine said this number takes into account an equivalent dosage being held in reserve, so that recipients can receive their second shot.

Pharmacies that have been contracted to administer the vaccine at skilled nursing facilities can start clinics as soon as Dec. 21, Levine said.

Which Vermonters will receive the vaccine first?

In late October, the DOH announced a four-phase rollout plan for the COVID-19 vaccine. The plan was refined Dec. 4 by Vermont’s vaccination advisory group to align the plan with new recommendations from the national Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Levine announced the revisions to phase 1A during the governor’s Dec. 8 press conference.

Phase 1A in Vermont will include:

  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Staff at long-term care facilities who have contact with
  • patients
  • Clinical and support staff who have patient contact at facilities with high risk for COVID-19
  • Home health care staff

Levine said the DOH is awaiting recommendations from ACIP before unveiling a revised plan for phase 1B.

How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

The vaccine will be provided to Vermonters at no cost, Levine said.

While health care providers may charge an administrative fee, Vermonters are guaranteed access to the vaccine whether or not they have insurance.

Does Vermont have the freezer capacity required to store the Pfizer vaccine?

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said Vermont currently has enough freezer space at several facilities across the state to accommodate the initial vaccine order.

The state recently purchased a low-temperature freezer for the state’s vaccine distribution center, Scott said. He believes Vermont to be “in good shape.”

What questions do you have about the vaccine? Email bhigdon@orourkemediagroup.com and we’ll get you an answer.

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