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When will you get it?

With the United States on the verge of dispensing the first COVID-19 vaccines, many health experts are releasing estimated timelines for when various groups of people will get vaccinated in coming months, including when the population will be mostly inoculated.

Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF, shared his timeline on Twitter on Tuesday.

Wachter said his projection is based on statements made by Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership initiated by the U.S. government to accelerate the development of the vaccine, as well as Pfizer and Moderna, the two drugmakers on the cusp of issuing the first inoculations.

His timeline assumes enough shots will be available to vaccinate 20 million people by January 2021, 150 million by June and the entire country (329 million) by December 2021.

Herd-immunity threshold is the point where 70% of the population is protected from the virus, and he puts the country at this point in September. When this is achieved, the spread of disease from person to person becomes low. As a result, the whole community becomes protected, not only those who are immune.


Wachter’s timeline is slightly less optimistic than the one provided by Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, who said Tuesday we could reach herd immunity by May.

“I think this may prove to be too optimistic, but the timeline may go a bit faster, particularly if additional vaccines are approved,” Wachter said via email.

While Operation Warp Speed puts life back to normal by May, Wachter hypothesizes that by spring all high-risk individuals will be inoculated.

California residents may be wondering if the process could move faster here than in other parts of the country.

“I don’t see a lot of reason why California will be faster or slower to reach herd immunity,” he said. “We probably are more competent in logistics than some states, perhaps a bit less rural than some states (though plenty of rural parts). On the other hand, our per-capita COVID rate is lower than most (ranked about 30th last time I looked), so to the extent that pre-existing antibodies moves you a bit closer to the herd immunity number, that would argue that it might take us a bit longer.”

Wachter said the biggest factor that will impact the speed of vaccination is vaccine hesitancy. “I’ve not seen the national surveys broken down by state, nor the rate of vaccine use broken down,” he said. “But that’ll be the biggest factor of all: What percentage of people in a state actually choose to take the vaccine.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consider this month authorizing emergency use of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. The possibility for a vaccine being approved in the U.S. is looking increasingly hopeful as British regulators approved Pfizer’s vaccine for use on Wednesday.

Current estimates in the U.S. project that no more than 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available by the end of 2020. Both products require two doses. As a result, the shots will be rationed in the early stages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine committee advised Tuesday that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line.

The advisory committee will meet again to decide who should be next in line. Among the possibilities: teachers, police, firefighters and workers in other essential fields such as food production and transportation; the elderly; and people with underlying medical conditions.

Wachter is worried about how people respond to the CDC’s draft of its priority list.

“I’m concerned these decisions will be contentious and – this being Covid – politicized, since it will raise matters of race, homelessness, incarceration, elders, healthcare workers…in other words, myriad hot buttons,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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