COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution: The Process

The federal government has been working since the pandemic started to develop, manufacture, and distribute safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinations in the United States began on December 14, 2020.


COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Authorization

Years before the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists were already studying coronaviruses to find out how to protect against them. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, researchers were able to come up with vaccines for this new virus much faster because of work that was already happening.

As part of the federal response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. government established a coordinated strategy to prioritize the development of the most promising vaccines for the prevention of COVID-19.

FDA Authorization

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews and evaluates COVID-19 vaccines for quality, safety, and effectiveness.  The FDA then issues Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for certain vaccines that meet rigorous, science-based standards. The FDA determines that these vaccines are safe and effective for public use.

CDC Recommendation

After the FDA authorizes the emergency use of a vaccine, an independent panel of medical and health experts called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provides recommendations and guidance to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the use of the vaccine.

FDA Approval

When the FDA approves a vaccine, it must undergo the agency's standard approval process for reviewing the quality, safety and effectiveness. The FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research conducts an analysis of the benefits and risks to ensure the vaccine meets the FDA's standards for approval.

Interested in learning more about the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines in the United States?

Find vaccine overviews, safety information, and ingredient lists for:


COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

The federal government makes specific amounts of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine doses available to states and jurisdictions on a weekly basis.

Tribal health programs and Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) can decide to receive vaccines either through the Indian Health Service (IHS) or through the State. To better understand the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native, HHS initiated tribal consultation in September 2020 to seek input from tribal leaders on COVID-19 vaccination planning for Indian Country.

To ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government stood up programs to reach high-risk communities directly and quickly.

  • The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program sent doses to 21 pharmacy partners with over 40,000 activated stores, 40% of which are located in high-risk zip codes.
  • The Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program allocates doses directly to community-based health centers who sign up to receive and administer COVID-19 vaccines. The program is open to more than 1,400 health centers nationwide. Over 91% of these health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
  • The Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program distributes doses directly to Rural Health Clinics in medically-underserved rural communities.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

During the COVID-19 pandemic, each state, tribe, and territory developed its own plan for distributing the vaccine to people in their jurisdiction. On April 19, 2021, vaccine eligibility expanded to everyone aged 16 years and older in the U.S. On May 10, 2021, FDA expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age.


Timeline of Vaccine Distribution

August


FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty (COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA), which was previously known as Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for individuals 12 through 15 years of age.


May


FDA amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age.


April


White House COVID-19 Response Team announced that all people age 16 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.


March


Acting HHS Secretary issued a directive to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all Americans* by May 1, 2021.


ACIP published their the Advisory Committee's recommendation for use of the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine.


Acting HHS Secretary directed that teachers, school staff, and child care workers are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations*.


February


FDA issued the third EUA for use of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in persons aged 18 years and older for the prevention of COVID-19.


December


ACIP published their recommendation for use of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.


FDA issued the second EUA for use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in persons aged 18 years and older for the prevention of COVID-19.


The first deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccines began.


ACIP published their recommendation for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.


FDA issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in persons aged 16 years and older for the prevention of COVID-19.



Making Vaccines Available Quickly and to Everyone

Vaccines are available at no cost to everyone age 12 and older living in the United States, regardless of immigration or insurance status..

Building Vaccine Confidence

Some people have questions before they get vaccinated. We are working to meet people where they are and help them understand that vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to combat COVID-19. If you want to do more to build vaccine confidence in your community, join the COVID-19 Community Corps, a nationwide, grassroots network of local voices and trusted community leaders.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Content last reviewed