The Next 5 Groups Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

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Coronavirus vaccine
Sam Wordley /

After nearly a year of coronavirus misery in the U.S., 2021 is dawning with the hope that new vaccines finally will put the pandemic to rest.

But many of us wonder when we finally will be eligible to receive our dose of the medication. The vaccine itself is in limited supply right now, and is being doled out to the people deemed to need it most.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unveiled a schedule broken into phases that likely will determine who gets the next dose of the vaccine, and in what order they will be vaccinated.

The CDC schedule amounts to a recommendation to federal, state and local governments for who should get their vaccination first.

It is important to note that individual states will make their own determinations about who will get the vaccine and when. But many are expected to follow the CDC guidelines.

Who is getting the vaccine now?

As part of what the CDC calls Phase 1a, health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities have started receiving the vaccine already. They are deemed most at risk of being infected with the coronavirus and/or having serious health problems if they contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

There are around 21 million health care workers in the U.S., from those who work in hospitals and emergency medical services to those who provide long-term care and home health care. The CDC has suggested that health care personnel whose jobs require them to work within 6 feet of others be vaccinated before other health care workers.

An additional 3 million adults live in long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and skilled nursing facilities. The CDC has suggested that residents of skilled nursing facilities receive the vaccine before residents of other types of long-term care facilities if doses are limited, due to the COVID-19-associated death rate among the former group.

Skilled nursing facilities don’t provide the same level of care or treatment as hospitals, but they do provide medical, nursing and rehabilitative services, such as intravenous injections and physical therapy.

Who gets the vaccine next?

Following are the five groups who likely will get vaccinated next.

Front-line essential workers and people 75 and older (Phase 1b)

Front-line essential workers include a wide range of people who have jobs that put them at greater risk of being infected, or who simply have jobs that are especially vital to society and a functioning economy. According to the CDC, they include:

  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Corrections officers
  • Food and agricultural workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Those who work in education (teachers, support staff and day care workers)

People who are 75 or older are especially at risk for poor outcomes if they contract COVID-19. About 80% of reported COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people who were at least 65 years old, according to the CDC.

People 65-74, people 16-64 with underlying health conditions, other essential workers (Phase 1c)

As mentioned above, those who are at least 65 years old are at especially high risk for poor outcomes — including hospitalization, illness and death — from COVID-19.

People with certain health conditions also are at high risk of complications from COVID-19, regardless of their age. The CDC has a long list of such underlying conditions on its website.

The essential workers who should be vaccinated in this phase include people who work in:

  • Transportation and logistics
  • Food service
  • Housing construction and finance
  • Information technology
  • Communications
  • Energy
  • Law
  • Media
  • Public safety
  • Public health

When will each phase roll out?

Wondering when each phase will occur? It’s difficult to say, and likely will vary by state.

For example, Massachusetts officials have created an estimated time horizon for residents at a government website. The Bay State’s schedule is broken into three phases and is as follows:

  • Phase 1: December-February
  • Phase 2: February-April
  • Phase 3: April-June

The Massachusetts schedule roughly — although not exactly — follows the CDC guidelines. Most of the groups mentioned in the CDC guidelines will be vaccinated by April, with the rest of the general population expected to receive the medicine beginning in April.

It’s important to note that these and other timeframes are estimates. The U.S. originally had hoped to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December, but news reports suggest the government fell well short of that mark. So, further delays are possible.

For more on the dangers of the coronavirus, check out:

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