COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker: Week of Feb. 15

Editor's note: Below you'll find release of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker originally published Feb. 17, 2021. Visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker homepage for the latest data.

The United States is holding steady when it comes to administering available COVID-19 vaccine supply. As of February 17, 77% of the doses delivered by the government have been administered, compared to 72% last week.

As of today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 71,657,975 vaccine doses have been shipped to states. But we may see a sharper increase in the coming weeks. On February 16, the Biden administration announced it will increase the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses going to the states from 10 million to 13.5 million per week.

Vaccination Sites Are Becoming Easier to Access

While we wait for those extra doses, we can already monitor the impact of some other recent federal initiatives to boost vaccine availability across states. A federal retail pharmacy program officially launched on February 11, connecting both national pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies with states and territories. Vaccines are now available at participating supermarkets, Walmarts, Costcos, and CVS locations, to name a few federal partners. The goal is to meet people where they are—or where they’re likely to go—in order to help get them vaccinated. 

In Mississippi, this program is likely already improving vaccination rates. 

Last week, Mississippi was second to last on the list of states ranked by the percentage of the population who’d received the full two-dose vaccine regimen per capita. (Alabama was, and continues to be, last.) But this week, Mississippi jumped to 33rd place. Notably, on February 9, the state was the only one in the country already offering vaccines at Walmart.

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.

The national leaders remain largely unchanged. Alaska, West Virginia, and North Dakota continue to hold their spots at the top of the vaccine distribution list.

States Are In Varying Stages of Phase 1 Eligibility

With nearly 8% of its entire population fully vaccinated, Alaska is also moving the fastest through its eligible vaccine population. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities be made eligible for COVID-19 vaccines first—and Alaska is 48% of the way through these groups.

However, those ACIP recommendations are just guidelines for states to follow. In reality, Alaska is now offering its vaccine to a wider subset of the population, including:

  • People age 65 and above
  • People age 50 years and above with a high-risk medical condition
  • People age 50 years and above working as an essential worker within 6 feet of others
  • Pre-K–12 and child care education staff
  • Most healthcare workers
  • People living or working in congregate settings
  • Long-term care residents and staff

While Alaska’s held the lead here for weeks, other states are shaking up the list. In Indiana, for example, the percentage of older adults, long-term care facility residents, and healthcare workers who have received both vaccine doses nearly doubled over the past week. This may be due to the state’s firm decision to stick to an age-based, risk-based vaccine distribution plan, announced in a press conference on February 10. (This plan also accommodates frontline healthcare workers.)

In Wyoming, where vaccine eligibility varies county by county, the percentage of eligible adults who are fully vaccinated has also doubled over the course of the week. Health officials are crediting some of its success to remarkably high second dose compliance in major counties. This means people are actually returning for their second shot after receiving their first. In Natrona county, the state’s second most populated county, a health department spokesperson said compliance has been nearly 100% at county health clinics.

Experts are concerned about people not getting both doses of their vaccines. Research from other two-dose vaccines, like hepatitis B, indicates people may show up for the first dose, but not the second. The full two-dose regimen of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines is necessary for full protection against COVID-19.

Looking Ahead With Cautious Optimism

If patterns from the last seven days held, our projections show the U.S. could get 70% of the population both vaccine doses by October. But we’re on the brink of some big changes that should speed things up. 

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.

Most immediately, the states will soon be receiving nearly 3 million more vaccines per week as part of President Biden’s COVID-19 response plan. Another vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, may be authorized for use by the end of the month. And looking ahead, Biden announced he signed contracts to secure 200 million additional vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of July.

This news matters because the biggest challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution can be solved with more vaccine supply. While other obstacles lay ahead—from continued vaccine hesitancy to vaccine equity in underserved populations—right now, most states would be vaccinating people faster if they only had the doses.

Data by Amanda Morelli/Adrian Nesta

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