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Not everyone will receive the exact same COVID-19 vaccine. What to know



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The race to approve the first well-tested coronavirus vaccine is over, but it will take more than one or two to treat everyone worldwide.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Visit the WHO website for the most current news and information about the coronavirus pandemic.

The first wave of corona vaccines is finally underway, and with that comes a lot of questions. Are there different types of coronavirus vaccines, and when can you get one? Before vaccines were administered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritized which groups should get the very best first available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine (the agency continues to update its guidelines). However, states are under no obligation to follow the lead of the CDC, and some have already begun to go against federal agency guidelines in favor of their own priority lists.

Independently of who is first in line for a coronavirus vaccine, there are more on the way and more questions with them. Who gets those other vaccines and how soon can you expect to be protected against COVID-19?

With more than a dozen COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in late-stage clinical trials and dozens not too far behind, it is now clear that not everyone in the world will receive the same vaccine. Not only are there different manufacturers – AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Norovax and so on – but each vaccine comes and works a little differently from the others. Most COVID-19 vaccines are available as an injection, but some are patches and others you can take as pills. The vast majority require at least two doses, but a few are expected to provide effective immunity after just one dose.

That means it is possible that some vaccines may be reserved for certain groups rather than others based on how the drugs work in the body or how they are delivered. For example, some single-dose vaccines could be better for low-density population, rural communities, while urban and suburban dwellers who live closer to more healthcare providers could receive vaccines requiring subsequent “booster doses”.

The vast majority of coronavirus vaccines are still under development and science continues to evolve, so nothing is certain yet. Here we sketch a broad picture of what the upcoming vaccine landscape might look like. We will continue to update this story as new information comes to light. This article is intended as a general overview and not a source of medical advice.

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Not all COVID-19 vaccines need to be injected – some can be given without a needle.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Pfizer and Moderna are available now

What they are: Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA, or “genetic” vaccines, an entirely new class of drugs that are unstable at room temperature and need to be frozen until just before dispensing.

When they come: Both are authorized by the FDA and are currently being implemented administered to priority individuals such as caregivers, nursing home residents and staff.

Who They May Be Best For: Until now, nursing home staff and residents and primary health workers.

Cooling: Pfizer’s vaccine requires long-term storage, colder than Antarctica: -94 degrees Fahrenheit. It can then be stored for up to five days at normal refrigerator temperatures of 35 to 46 F. Moderna needs temperatures that a commercial freezer can probably handle for long-term storage: -4 degrees F. It will keep for 30 days at typical refrigerator temperatures (36 to 46 degrees F) .

Dosage: Both vaccines require a first injection followed by a booster shot a few weeks later.

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The first vaccines are provided to priority groups such as primary care workers and the elderly.

Sarah Tew / CNET

The University of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine could be next

What it is: Once at the forefront of the race to find a coronavirus vaccine, candidate-developed Oxford University and British-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca ran into a few snags along the way, delaying the application for authorization.

When it comes: The UK approved the vaccine a few days before the start of 2021, but the FDA won’t approve it in the US until clinical trials here are completed, possibly as early as February or March.

Cooling: A standard refrigerator can handle it: 36 to 46 degrees F.

Dosage: Two, originally meant to be a month apart. However, referring to unpublished results of the trial, regulators in the UK have allowed a three-month period between doses, claiming the data supports this as the more effective timescale.

Novavax is showing promise and an advantage

What it is: The Novavax coronavirus vaccine is at a late stage of clinical studies. While not on the road to approval yet, this vaccine promises high efficacy and stability under normal refrigeration versus freezer conditions. That could make it more practical for wider distribution.

When it comes: Probably sometime in the first half of 2021.

Cooling: Standard refrigeration should be 39 to 46 degrees F.

Dosage: Two doses three weeks apart, plus an adjuvant, a second drug that helps the vaccine work better.

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With several coronavirus vaccines likely to be approved in 2021, the next challenge is figuring out which one is best for you.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Delivery of a needleless vaccine by Inovio

What it is: Instead of a syringe and needle, Inovio’s unique system uses an electrical pulse to deliver the vaccine into the body, where it can trigger an immune response.

When it comes: Inovio just started mid-phase clinical trials in December, so a release in the summer of 2021 could be a realistic expectation if all goes well with the studies.

Who it might be best for: Children and adults with an intense fear of needles; people in developing areas where the safe disposal of needles is a challenge.

Cooling: Can be kept at room temperature.

Dosage: Two doses, supplied with a patch, four weeks apart.

There is no guarantee that any of the hitherto unauthorized vaccines listed above will be approved by the FDA for emergency use, nor do the timelines take into account possible future issues or delays. We will update this article as new information emerges and we will continue to add more vaccines to this list as it becomes clearer when other manufacturers apply for authorization and which groups are likely to receive it.

For more information on how vaccines are developed and distributed and for the latest vaccine news, read our explainer of the coronavirus vaccine. If you have specific questions about a COVID-19 vaccine, we may already have it answer them here. Wondering when you can get one? We follow priority groups for the coronavirus vaccine here.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.


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