How UPMC Will Distribute the COVID-19 Vaccine

Updated Jan. 20, 2021

UPMC is developing plans to distribute new COVID-19 vaccines to employees and community members.

UPMC is coordinating internally and with state and federal health officials about how we will distribute vaccines in the communities we serve. We will receive allocations of the vaccine candidates as they become available.

UPMC participated in Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government initiative to manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccine candidates. UPMC created the Pittsburgh Vaccine Trials Unit to test vaccine candidates locally.

“It’s exciting to see the unprecedented speed at which these vaccines were developed,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology, UPMC.

“We are eagerly anticipating the additional data we need to craft an equitable distribution strategy in conjunction with our government partners.”

When Will a COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available?

The first COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, received an emergency use authorization (EUA) on Dec. 11 from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A COVID-19 vaccine produced by Moderna received an EUA on Dec. 18.  Other potential vaccine candidates could seek FDA approval for emergency use at a later date.

Once the FDA gives emergency use authorization to a vaccine candidate, distribution can begin.

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How Will COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Work?

The first COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, received an emergency use authorization (EUA) in the United States on Dec. 11. A COVID-19 vaccine produced by Moderna received EUA on Dec. 18. This means millions of doses of vaccines will be available for distribution in 2020. However, there will not immediately be enough doses for everyone in the United States.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the first doses go to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, distributed weeks apart.

The CDC estimates between 70% and 90% of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity.

“The vaccines are going to come out in multiple forms from multiple companies, but there are 300-plus-million people in the United States who will likely need a dose of vaccine,” says Andrew Nowalk, MD, clinical director, Division of Infectious Diseases, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“So we’re going to have to be patient as the vaccines are rolled out and as the doses start to flow out. I’m very confident that when 2021 comes, we’re going to have vaccines being distributed everywhere: at first to the front-line folks and then to folks as their risk determines it moving forward.”

When Will the Vaccine Be Available to the Public?

There are not yet enough doses of vaccine to cover the millions of people who need them nationwide. Vaccine distribution will happen in phases. UPMC hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics can’t currently provide the vaccine to the general public.

Current COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution:

Early vaccine supplies are limited, and distribution is happening in phases.

  • We are now offering the vaccine to our health care workers — those who have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our communities healthy.
  • We are also offering vaccination to residents and staff of our long-term care facilities.
  • Non-UPMC frontline health care workers are also eligible for vaccination.
  • Those over age 65 or those between the ages 16-64 with certain underlying medical conditions are a part of phase 1a. Please note that this time, UPMC cannot process those requests. Please check back for more information.

What’s Next for Vaccine Distribution?

  • Vaccine access will then expand to essential workers, individuals with health conditions that put them at risk of COVID-19, and then to the general population.
  • We are hopeful to have widespread distribution of the vaccine to community members in spring 2021.

How Will Vaccine Distribution Work at UPMC?

UPMC is working with federal and state officials on when, how, and to whom vaccines will be distributed.

We received our first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 14 and began vaccinating our frontline health care workers. We are receiving information about the delivery of our first doses of the Moderna vaccine to our long-term care facilities.

The Pfizer vaccine requires storage at very low temperatures. UPMC has deep freezers ready for the vaccine’s arrival and may explore getting more freezers if they are needed.

“Our annual flu vaccination efforts have helped us put the infrastructure in place for mass vaccination events,” Dr. Snyder says. “We are used to navigating the varying transportation and storage requirements, handling protocols, and distribution plans that come along with all types of vaccines.”

UPMC had practice earlier this fall with widespread, rapid vaccine distribution. Through “Operation One Shot,” it successfully delivered the influenza vaccine to over 70% of UPMC staff at participating hospitals in a matter of days.

Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Safe?

Vaccines go through extensive clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed great promise in the clinical trials, Dr. Nowalk says.

“All of the information we have is that these vaccines are safe, that they work even better than we thought they would, and that they will be the thing that frees us from the COVID epidemic in the end,” Dr. Nowalk says.

UPMC is ready to deliver the vaccine as it becomes available.

“The coronavirus vaccine landscape is changing rapidly, but we are preparing to the best of our abilities with the information we have,” Dr. Snyder says. “We look forward to playing a role in protecting our health care workers and the communities we serve when vaccines become available.”


Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, Two Vaccines Might Get Emergency Approval This Month. Here's What You Need to Know. Link

Lena H. Sun and Isaac Stanley-Becker, Washington Post, Health Care workers and Nursing Home Residents Should Be the First to Get Coronavirus Vaccines, CDC Advisory Group Says. Link

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to