COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker: Week of Feb. 1

Editor's note: Below you'll find the week 2 release of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker, originally published Feb. 2, 2021. Visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker homepage for the latest data.

While the United States is inching forward in its COVID-19 vaccine distribution to the states, the states are getting a better handle on administering those vaccines to their citizens. This time last week, only half of the vaccines allocated federally had actually made it into arms—a process which falls largely to each state. But as of February 2, 64.5% of available shots have been administered.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for emergency use in the United States. Each vaccine requires two doses for COVID-19 immunity, spaced 21 days (Pfizer-BioNTech) or 28 days (Moderna) apart.

So what’s changed? Not a whole lot. The states who’ve been administering COVID-19 vaccines most efficiently are simply making improvements to remain ahead of the pack. Last week, four states cleared the 2% threshold for fully vaccinating their populations on a per capita level: Alaska, West Virginia, South Dakota, and North Dakota. This week, those same four states have administered two doses of the vaccine to over 3% of their populations per capita. Comparatively, the country as a whole has yet to get 2% of the population two doses of a vaccine. 

Registration Portals Matter

West Virginia is now leading the country when it comes to administering its COVID-19 vaccine allocation. (Last week, it was second to Alaska.) In addition to the success the state has seen by bowing out of federal pharmacy programs and creating its own, in the past week, it launched a centralized online portal for vaccine registration. The result is a streamlined process for booking a shot.

It’s not just the leaders who are making improvements. New Hampshire, who was 27th on the list of two vaccine doses administered per capita last week, has moved up 12 spots. Just like in West Virginia, a new state registration portal has made all the difference. Over 147,000 people registered on launch day without any major glitches, allowing New Hampshire to subsequently administer all of the doses it receives each week.

California, Texas, Florida, and New York—the states with the highest adult populations—still have the lion’s share of vaccines, even though the Department of Health and Human Services said it will prioritize states that administer vaccines the fastest as of the end of January.

Small Populations Make a Big Dent

Learning that roughly 2% of your state has been vaccinated seven weeks into the vaccine rollout may not feel reassuring. But it’s important to remember that not everyone is eligible to be vaccinated yet. From an eligibility standpoint, some states are making significant progress. Alaska, for example, is 20% of the way through vaccinating its eligible population, which includes:

  • People age 65 and above
  • Healthcare workers 
  • Long-term care residents and staff

As Alaska proves, a smaller state population is easier to vaccinate. North Dakota and South Dakota are 15.9% and 14.7% through the way of vaccinating their eligible populations, respectively. This is up from 9.7% and 8.6% last week. At only about 11 people per square mile, these sparsely-populated states have benefited from a unique distribution method for many of their vaccine doses: Dodge Caravans. Sponsored by South Dakota-based Sanford Health, a fleet of vans outfitted with freezers is transporting vaccines to remote medical centers and facilities far away from major medical centers in the Dakotas and neighboring Minnesota.

South Dakota, in particular, also saw a major drop in reported positive COVID-19 test results in the last week of January, experiencing a nationwide lead of -34% change in cases. Fewer COVID-19 cases allow healthcare personnel to focus on vaccinating rather than caring for active infections.

The Country Needs a Larger Vaccine Supply

Despite the progress we’re seeing at a state population level, the country is falling off pace when it comes to vaccinating a meaningful percentage of the population against COVID-19. Last week, we predicted that if everything stayed the same, the U.S. could get 70% of the population both vaccine doses by August. Now, based on the last seven days, that projection has shifted to October.

Why 70%?

While there’s still no clear percentage of the population necessary to reach herd immunity for COVID-19, 70% is a good place to start. Herd immunity refers to the protectiveness achieved when a significant portion of a population develops immunity to an infectious disease, either through vaccination or having a prior illness. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, used to say 60% to 70% of the population needed to be vaccinated or recovered to reach herd immunity, his projection has evolved to range from 70% to 90%.

Herd immunity is a complex calculation that relies on both past infections and number of people vaccinated. Because the World Health Organization emphasizes herd immunity should rely on vaccination and not disease exposure, for the sake of projections, our numbers focus on the time it will take to hit 70% through vaccination alone.

Across the board, states administered significantly fewer COVID-19 vaccines in the last seven days compared to the week prior because there’s less supply to work with. While the Biden administration announced plans to bolster funding to increase vaccine production, Congress has yet to approve any budgets, and that production increase has yet to take place.

That doesn’t mean it won’t. Ebb and flow is an expected part of this vaccine tracker. The distribution and allocation process will get easier, especially when and if manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca earn emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their vaccine candidates. 

Data by Amanda Morelli/Adrian Nesta

By Anisa Arsenault
Anisa joined the company in 2018 after managing news surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and parenting for The Bump. Her health and wellness articles have appeared in outlets like Prevention and Metro US. At Verywell, she is responsible for the news program, which includes coverage of COVID-19.