In the United States, there are currently only two vaccines approved to prevent COVID-19. These vaccines were developed by Moderna and Pfizer and approved by the federal government under an Emergency Use Authorization. The federal government and partners (e.g., pharmaceutical companies) have been working since the pandemic started to make COVID-19 vaccines available as soon as possible. Many more COVID-19 vaccine candidates are currently in development or under evaluation. Early results from clinical studies on several of these vaccines look very promising.
COVID-19 vaccine will not be approved for release in the U.S. unless the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined it to be safe and effective. Due to the critical need for release of COVID vaccines, early vaccine use is allowable only under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization, prior to the vaccine receiving full FDA licensure. An Emergency Use Authorization does not bypass requirements to show that the vaccine is safe and effective.
The Pfizer COVID-19 and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. These vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to tell the body how to make an important virus protein called the spike protein, so we can make antibodies against it. These antibodies protect us from getting sick if we are exposed to the virus in the future. The mRNA only makes the protein for about a week and does not change the DNA of a person.
COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution in Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is the lead agency in overseeing distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to residents of Philadelphia. Distribution will be different than for other vaccines. Healthcare providers and pharmacies will not be able to order this vaccine from manufacturers and suppliers directly. All ordering, storing, administration, and reporting of COVID-19 vaccine use will be managed or overseen by the Health Department. These processes must be conducted in accord with rules and practice guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
PDPH will create a broad vaccine administration network to achieve sustainable and equitable vaccine access across the city, including through private healthcare providers, pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, community service organizations, and mass vaccination events.
COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan
In mid-October, the Department of Public Health submitted a draft COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as was required for inclusion in the national strategy. This Plan addresses 15 areas identified by the CDC as the essential planning components. The local Plan was developed by the Health Department, guided by recommendations from the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (see below).
The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan covers a variety of topics, including defining critical populations, recruiting and training providers on vaccine use, storage and handling requirements for the vaccine, models of vaccine distribution, data collection and reporting, public information, and monitoring COVID-19 vaccinations for safety and uptake. The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan is an evolving document that will change over time, as we learn more about the vaccines and figure out the most equitable way to protect people.
Read the Executive Summary of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan
COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee
The Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) was established to advise the Health Department on planning distribution of COVID-19 vaccine. The VAC is comprised of local stakeholders representing healthcare, vulnerable populations, faith-based organizations, business sectors, insurers, and others affected by the pandemic. The VAC advises the City on prioritization strategies for vaccine distribution, addresses health equity issues, and guides communication and community engagement strategies to build trust and promote vaccine uptake.
Phased Approach for Limited Supply of Vaccine
Because vaccine availability is initially limited, Philadelphia is planning for a phased approach to COVID-19 vaccination. This approach will prioritize populations at high-risk of acquiring infection, transmitting infection to vulnerable persons, or suffering severe consequences of infection.
Vaccine will be available to patient-facing healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care facilities.
Vaccine will be available to other priority groups, such as:
- Frontline workers at high risk for exposure who perform essential duties.
- Persons working and residing in congregate settings.
- Persons 75 years and older.
- Persons with high-risk medical conditions.
Vaccine will be available to other essential workers with lower risk of exposure and persons 65-74 years.
Vaccine will be available to all individuals 16 years and older not previously immunized.
Philadelphia COVID-19 Vaccine Phases: Current Status
On January 19, 2021, the City added Phase 1b priority groups as eligible for vaccination, in addition to continuing vaccination of persons in Phase 1a.
Learn more about the phased schedule and definitions of priority populations.