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Dec. 21, 2020, 1:02 p.m. EST

Here’s when most Americans will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine

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By Meera Jagannathan

The first U.S. authorizations of two COVID-19 vaccines have provided a ray of hope in a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans, but limited vaccine supply means initial doses will go to the highest-priority groups — and the average American will likely have to sit tight for a few months.

Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +8.73% on Sunday began shipping its vaccine , which has shown 94.5% efficacy in protecting against COVID-19, following its emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration two days earlier. The authorization came on the heels of a vaccine candidate developed by Germany’s BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.57% and commercialized by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.15% starting to arrive at hospitals nationwide Dec. 14 .

Initial doses of the Moderna vaccine were expected to be administered Monday.

One of the country’s first vaccine doses to be administered outside of a clinical trial went Dec. 14 to Sandra Lindsay , a critical-care nurse in Queens, N.Y., which was devastated by COVID-19 cases and deaths in the pandemic’s early months.

“I hope this marks the beginning to the end of a very painful time in our history,” Lindsay said after receiving her Pfizer vaccine shot during a livestreamed news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe — we’re in a pandemic, and so we all need to do our part to put an end to the pandemic and to not give up so soon.”

Her inoculation was in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that health-care workers and long-term-care facility residents — two populations at particularly high risk for contracting COVID-19 — be first in line to receive vaccine doses. The CDC’s Dec. 3 guidance was based on a recommendation from the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) panel.

The ACIP panel voted Sunday to recommend that frontline essential workers and adults 75 and older be offered vaccination next. After that, adults aged 65 to 74, people aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not previously included should receive vaccine doses, the advisory panel said.

“The recommendations were made with these goals in mind: decrease death and serious disease as much as possible; preserve functioning of society; [and] reduce the extra burden COVID-19 is having on people already facing disparities,” the CDC notes .

For the average American, “the earliest will likely be in the spring, but more likely over the summer,” Sandra Albrecht, a Columbia University assistant professor of epidemiology and chief epidemiologist for the science-communication project Dear Pandemic , previously told MarketWatch.

Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, the director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, the government’s vaccine development and distribution effort, said in an MSNBC interview in November that by June, “100% of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine.”

“The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as large quantities of vaccine are available,” the CDC says. “As vaccine supply increases but remains limited, ACIP will expand the groups recommended for vaccination.”

The two vaccines were granted emergency-use authorization, a less-rigorous clearance than full FDA approval that is being used to accelerate the use of coronavirus treatments and vaccines. Both use mRNA technology, which teaches the body’s cells to create proteins that generate an immune response.

The Pfizer-BioNTech candidate, which requires that people return for a second shot three weeks after their initial dose, showed 95% efficacy in a late-stage clinical trial. There still aren’t enough data to determine the vaccine’s safety in people who are immunocompromised, children younger than 16 and people who are pregnant or lactating, according to an FDA briefing document .

Data for Moderna’s vaccine, which requires two shots four weeks apart, remains insufficient to draw conclusions about safety for immunocompromised people, children younger than 18 and people who are pregnant or lactating, that candidate’s FDA briefing document says.

Experts say people will still need to wear masks and practice social distancing for some period of time even after they’re vaccinated, since it remains to be seen whether the vaccines will prevent asymptomatic infection and how long immunity will last.

For more answers to your vaccine questions, check out MarketWatch’s guide here .

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