Your questions about a coronavirus vaccine, answered

In the battle against COVID-19, millions of doses of the two authorized vaccines have already been distributed

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer say they have submitted an application for conditional approval of their coronavirus vaccine with the European Medicines Agency. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer say they have submitted an application for conditional approval of their coronavirus vaccine with the European Medicines Agency. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File) (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

In a remarkably short period of time—less than one year—scientists have managed to design, create, and test several potential vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. On Dec. 11, the Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine, the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. On Dec. 18, the FDA issued a second emergency authorization, for a vaccine developed by Moderna, which is based on similar technology.

Healthcare workers in the U.S. started getting the Pfizer vaccine Dec. 14 and the Moderna vaccine the following week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as of Jan. 4, at least 15 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S., and at least 4.5 million people have received their first of two doses.

In a Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 2,851 U.S. adults, 63 percent said they are very or somewhat likely to get a vaccine when one becomes available. (The survey was fielded in early to mid-November; that number may well rise as more vaccine doses are administered across the country.)

For those trying to understand all the vaccine news and how it will affect their lives, a number of questions remain. Consumer Reports has reviewed government guidance and consulted with experts to answer some of the most common questions. (Don’t see your question here? Send it to CR at covidquestions@cr.consumer.org, and we may answer in an update to this article.)

When Will I Get Access to a Vaccine?

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an expert group that makes official vaccine recommendations to the federal government, has worked with the CDC to determine who should get priority access to a vaccine. That will be especially important initially, when supply is limited.

The ACIP has recommended that healthcare personnel and residents of long-term-care facilities, including skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, be offered access first to a coronavirus vaccine.

After that, recommendations are to roll out the vaccine to people in essential roles or who are particularly vulnerable to infection. Though specifics are still under discussion, the next groups likely to receive vaccines include essential workers, such as teachers, food service workers, manufacturing personnel, and police officers and firefighters. People with medical conditions that put them at high risk for severe COVID-19 and adults 65 and older are also high priority. Nonessential workers and people at lower risk of severe illness would be lower on the priority list.