COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker: Week of Feb. 22

Editor's note: Below you'll find release of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker originally published Feb. 23, 2021. Visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker homepage for the latest data.

While the country might not be feeling the immediate impact just yet, COVID-19 vaccination efforts improved significantly in the U.S. last week. 

The achievement isn’t readily apparent. As of February 23, 2021, the total number of vaccine doses distributed across the country has risen by another 10 million—an increase on par with previous weeks. And when it comes to actually getting those shots into arms, efficiency has only improved slightly; 79% of the doses delivered by the government have been administered, compared to 77% last week.

Despite this slow and steady progress, our predictions show the country’s timeline for vaccinating a meaningful percentage of the population has moved up a month. If patterns from the last seven days held, 70% of Americans would be fully vaccinated by September 2021. This time last week, that projection was 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.

Some states are on even more accelerated timelines. South Dakota and New Mexico are on track to get two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 70% of their populations by May. Several states are pacing toward June. This time last week, the earliest it seemed any given state could hit this percentage was July.

What's Speeding Up the Timeline?

Without a significant increase in the number of vaccines available, how have states been making progress toward herd immunity? The short answer: more people have been getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The more people who get vaccinated, the more effectively community COVID-19 spread can be reduced. Therefore, an increase in first doses nudges a state a little further along the herd immunity timeline than an increase in second doses. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that over the last seven days, a higher proportion of available vaccines went to first doses (roughly 57%) than second doses (roughly 43%). States like South Dakota, Rhode Island, and New Mexico had the greatest percent change in people with one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why they’re tracking so well toward fully vaccinating 70% of their populations.

The U.S. will have more vaccines soon; 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 by mid-March. And the President announced he secured 200 million additional vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of July.

The number of people being vaccinated for the first time may have spiked because COVID-19 vaccines only recently became easier to get. February 11 marked the debut of a federal retail pharmacy program, connecting both national pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies with states and territories. This means places like Costco, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Publix can administer COVID-19 vaccines. People may be more likely to opt for a vaccine if they’re familiar with the vaccination site.

Alaska Takes a Significant Lead

On a per capita level, Alaska has administered the full two-dose vaccine regimen to over 11% of its population, nearly doubling the national cadence. In spite of its sparse population and lack of transportation infrastructure, the state is getting the job done thanks to two unique advantages:

  • Because of Alaska’s larger populations of military personnel and Indigenous people, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the Indian Health Service receive vaccine doses for residents in addition to those distributed by the state.
  • Unlike other states who receive their vaccine allocations each week, Alaska receives a month’s worth of COVID-19 vaccine at a time. This allows the state to better plan against logistical challenges, like getting doses to remote areas.

Unique distribution approaches have benefited Hawaii over the past week as well. Contrary to advice from the Department of Health and Human Services, Hawaii withheld new rounds of first vaccine doses until second doses were administered to people who needed them—mostly adults over age 75.

As a result, Hawaii’s fully-vaccinated population increased significantly last week. On a list of states ranked by the percentage of the population who’s received the full two-dose vaccine regimen per capita, Hawaii moved from 22nd to eighth.

Data by Amanda Morelli/Adrian Nesta

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States. Updated February 23, 2021.

  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19. December 31, 2020.

  3. The White House. Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 16, 2021. February 16, 2021.

  4. The White House. Remarks by President Biden to National Institutes of Health Staff. February 11, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pharmacies Participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Updated February 2, 2021.

  6. Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. State of Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Guidelines. February 10, 2021.

  7. Berman A. 52,900 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be headed to Alaska in January. Anchorage Daily News. December 30, 2020.

  8. Kawano L. Second vaccine shots for large group of seniors could limit distribution of first doses. Hawaii News Now. February 8, 2021.