COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Tracker: Week of March 1

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

The United States is working to get back on track with COVID-19 vaccination efforts after winter storms across the country cancelled appointments and derailed vaccine deliveries.

The number of vaccines distributed across the country increased by about 17 million since last Monday, up from the usual 10 million increase we see week over week. When it comes to actually getting these vaccines into arms, though, the country is holding steady; as of March 1, about 79.5% of the doses delivered by the government have been administered, compared to 79% this time last week.

As of March 1, 7.7% of Americans have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

How Much Are Mass Vaccination Sites Helping?

To more efficiently vaccinate people in densely-populated areas, the government is converting  stadiums, amusement parks, convention centers, and parking lots into mass vaccination sites—dozens of which will be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pentagon. These tightly-operated, large-scale vaccination sites are designed to help administer shots to large swaths of people quickly; in Los Angeles, California, the first FEMA-run clinic is now vaccinating 6,000 people perday. It opened on February 16.

Over the past week, Texas opened three such vaccination sites in Houston, Dallas, and Arlington. New York City launched two centers in Brooklyn and Queens. Each site should be able to vaccinate 3,000 people per day, except for Houston, which has the capacity for 6,00 shots per day.

But so far, this strategy does not seem to be moving the needle at a state level. While we expected California, Texas, and New York to have shown significant improvement from last week in light of these new vaccination centers, none of these states have moved up on the list of states and territories ranked by the amount of fully-vaccinated people.

A delay in reporting data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may account for lower than expected numbers.

Are Local Pharmacies the Answer?

While we’ll probably see the impact of mass vaccination sites increase over time (FEMA-backed sites are coming to Pennsylvania and Florida in the next few days), their failure to make an initial splash highlights the importance of more localized vaccination efforts in places where there is no central hub. 

It bears repeating that West Virginia—who paved the way for setting up distribution channels with local pharmacies—has remained a national leader in COVID-19 vaccinations. West Virginia was the first state to opt out of a federal pharmacy partnership in favor of relying on more independent pharmacies for vaccine distribution. According to Gov. Jim Justice, 40% of the state's pharmacies are not chain-affiliated.

Currently, independent pharmacies are struggling to get COVID-19 vaccine doses from the government at the same rate as chains, who’ve more heavily benefited from the February 11 launch of a federal retail pharmacy program. Regardless of whether a pharmacy is a chain like CVS or Walgreens or independently owned, the goal is the same: to encourage vaccination by making it easy for people. People are already going to their local pharmacy; they’re not regularly going to their local NFL stadium.

According to the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), there are several reasons why independent pharmacies are in a unique position to facilitate COVID-19 vaccination, if only they had the doses:

  • They are ingrained in the communities they serve—people trust them
  • More than half of independent pharmacies are located in poor areas underserved by public health programs and lacking other healthcare providers 
  • More than half of independent pharmacies are located in areas where lack transportation is an issue and people may not have cars to get to other vaccination sites 

States With Fewer People Are Vaccinating People Faster

Unsurprisingly, states with lower population densities are working their way through their vaccine-eligible groups the fastest. Seven states have administered both vaccine doses to over 15% of their eligible populations:

  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • North Dakota
  • New Mexico 
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

Notably, these are not the states who are introducing FEMA-run mass vaccination sites.

Vaccine eligibility requirements are up to the individual states. But most are using the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) guidelines as a reference point. This week, we expanded our eligibility tracker to encompass all of “Phase 1,” as defined by ACIP, because many states are well into their versions of Phase 1c. Previously, we were only tracking how quickly states moved through their populations of healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, and older adults.

ACIP Recommendations for COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

  • Phase 1a. healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents
  • Phase 1b. persons 75 years and older and frontline essential workers 
  • Phase 1c. persons 65–74 years old, persons 16–64 years old with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers
  • Phase 2. all persons 16 years and older not previously recommended for vaccination

A Waiting Game

While we’re on the brink of COVID-19 vaccine breakthroughs, the U.S. is in a holding pattern. We’re waiting for the weekly increase in the vaccine allotments from the Biden administration to actually be administered; we’re waiting on the hundreds of millions more doses secured by the President to be manufactured by July; we’re waiting for the recently-authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine to start being used.

Knowing all those balls are in the air, projections for when each state will vaccinate a meaningful amount of their populations are likely (and hopefully) quite conservative. If nothing changed from this point on, the U.S. would vaccinate 70% of its adult population by September.

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.

Data by Amanda Morelli/Adrian Nesta

7 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.

  2. Mitchell E. Pentagon, FEMA open mass vaccination sites in Texas and New York. The Hill.

  3. FEMA. FEMA Supporting Vaccination Centers Nationwide.

  4. Young C. Governor details nursing home vaccination plan. WV News.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pharmacies Participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

  6. Population density in the U.S. by federal states including the District of Columbia in 2020. Statista.

  7. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19.

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.