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Updated 22 January 2021

Entering 2021, the United States of America is still dealing with heavy Coronavirus caseloads, undeniably being the country hit worst by the pandemic.

However now, with the advent of the vaccination program, the country is hoping to back to normal post-COVID life in the coming months. Find out more about the Pfizer shots and rollout the US.

How does the Pfizer vaccine work?

Among the available COVID-19 vaccines, there are four distinct types, namely, whole virus (this can again be a weakened form or inactivated coronavirus), protein subunit, nucleic acid (RNA or DNA), and viral vector.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-29 vaccine BNT162b2 is a messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) vaccine meaning that the vaccine carries genetic instructions that help the recipient’s cells to produce protein pieces that trigger immune system response. The response is in form of the reproduction of millions of copies of spike protein which stimulates the making of antibodies.

This is the same spike protein that is available in the coronavirus and used to enter the cells in the human body. If a sufficient number of antibodies are produced in the human body with the mRNA vaccine, they will prevent the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from proliferating, thus protecting the recipient from COVID-19.

How effective is the Pfizer vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine works best with two doses where the second one is registered 21 days after the first one. On administration of the first dose, the immune system is alerted, and post the second one, it gets a boost, thus providing the immunity to fight off the virus. Efficacy is 52% after the first dose and raises up to 95% after the second jab. So, it takes around four weeks to build immunity after the first dose (could happen earlier as well).

It is, however, not particularly known how long the vaccine immunity will last. Insights regarding the Pfizer COVID vaccine’s long term effects are clouded as trials weren’t set up to answer the same. CEO of BioNTech Sahin expects it to be months or possibly even years before the vaccine recipient becomes vulnerable to COVID-19 infection again. Eleanor Riley at the University of Edinburgh in the UK mentioned that we might have to resort to annual boosters.

It is also strongly recommended that you should complete the vaccine course i.e. take both the doses before you leave the city.

Are there any reported side effects?

As far as safety is concerned, the Pfizer vaccine has an overall great safety profile with its benefits outweigh the potential risks. Based on safety data collected from 37,586 participants enrolled in an ongoing phase 3 clinical trial, the most commonly reported side effect involves volunteers experiencing an injection site reaction (seen in almost 84% of those who received the vaccine).

So, if you are taking the vaccine, know that the injection site on your arm might hurt a little, show some redness, and get swollen a bit. You might also experience difficulties in moving your arm freely. Other known side effects of the Pfizer vaccine includes:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pains
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache

Severe reactions were rare with four cases of Bell’s palsy being reported during the trial. However, there is no clear evidence that the cause of this temporary paralysis was the vaccine. Adverse allergic reactions are also possible and hence those who experienced any major allergic reaction during the first dose of the vaccine are being advised not to take the second one.

Who’ll get the Pfizer vaccine in the US?

Initially, when the supply of the vaccine is limited, the doses will be delivered as per the priority list. Keeping mind the intention to decrease death and serious disease to the extent possible, preserve the functioning of society and reduce the extra burden COVID-19 is having on people already facing disparities, the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has recommended the following phases and tiers:

Phase 1a:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Residents of long-term care facilities

Phase 1b:

  • Frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector, including teachers, support staff, and daycare workers
  • People aged 75 years and older

Phase 1c: 

  • People aged 65—74 years
  • People aged 16—64 years with underlying medical conditions
  • Other essential workers, such as people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.

With the increase in vaccine availability, the recommendation will be revised to include more such groups.

Where and when to get the Pfizer shots in the US?

Each state and jurisdiction has its own plan concerning the COVID-19 vaccination.

In New York, for example, the Pfizer vials are available at pharmacies, hospitals and through local health departments across the state. It has also created the Am I Eligible app to streamline the process of booking slots for the COVID vaccination.

Washington requires residents to share a copy of the confirmation of their eligibility as per the Phase Finder web form with the vaccination provider.

Registering for the jabs

Vaccination appointments can be easily scheduled through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) app. VAMS is web-based and works on computers, cell phones, and tablets. There is no VAMS smartphone app, but you can access the VAMS website from the internet browser on your cell phone or tablet. VAMS works best in the Google Chrome web browser but can be accessed via any browser except Internet Explorer.

Only VAMS users can create a VAMS account and use VAMS to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. If you are VAMS user, you’ll receive an email containing the registration link for the appointment.

Note that different states and jurisdictions across the United States are using different web-based applications for scheduling appointments. Contact your health department to find out which vaccination management system they are using for vaccine enrollment and scheduling.

How much will the Pfizer vaccine cost?

The COVID vaccine doses will be available free of cost to Americans. The vaccination providers may charge a small fee for administering the dose, but this will be reimbursed by the individual’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

No American will be denied vaccination even if he is not in the capacity to pay for it.


Latest updates on the Pfizer Vaccine

Pfizer has promised to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the USA by the end of March 2021. As of now, almost 9,817,030 doses have been administered in the country, but there is still a huge unmet demand for the vaccine.

President Biden has said that he would turn to the Defense Production Act to increase the production of the vaccine, and even though it won’t help significantly, it would definitely improve the present situation. The plan proposed by the Biden administration suggests ways to boost the supply of the vaccine, such as using a special syringe that can hold six doses instead of the usual five.