With 1.4 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine headed to Texas, some are optimistic that there’s a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, even as officials caution people to continue taking precautions like social distancing a mask-wearing to stem the spread of the virus. For health officials, the focus this week is on distributing vaccines and educating the public about who will get it and when.
Imedla Garcia is chair of Texas’ COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. She’s associate commissioner for Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services at the Department of State Health Services. She told Texas Standard that four sites in Texas will receive vaccines on Monday: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; UT Health Austin; Methodist Dallas Medical Center; and Wellness 360 at UT Health San Antonio.
By the end of the first group of shipments this week, 109 locations in Texas will have received doses.
Priority for receiving vaccines in Texas goes to frontline health care workers. Garcia says the state will expand access to the vaccine in coming weeks.
“What we’ve really been focused on are those most at risk for COVID-19, and that is people working in the hospital setting because of their direct contact with COVID-19 patients,” Garcia said.
Other workers within hospital settings, including custodial and support workers, are also included in the first groups to receive the vaccine.
The state’s plan for vaccine distribution and priorities is available on the Department of State Health Services’ website.
“This initial few weeks there will be a more limited distribution because we do know that the supply is more limited early on,” she said. “But once we start shifting out to having bigger supply, we do plan on having COVID-19 vaccine in a lot of the pharmacies across the state.”
As public distribution begins, Garcia says vaccines will be available in locations like H-E-B and Brookshire’s pharmacies, and the vaccine panel will educate the public about priorities for vaccine access.
Garcia expects that members of the public will begin to have access to the vaccine in early 2021. The Expert Vaccine Panel continues to work on second-tier distribution priorities, she says. It’s not yet clear when teachers, law enforcement personnel and others who have significant contact with the public will get the vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being administered this week is a two-dose treatment. Garcia says those who get the first dose will receive a shot record that indicates which vaccine was administered, the lot number and the date it was administered. Providers record this information, and look up and match details when a patient returns for a second dose.
“The brands are not interchangeable,” she said. “So if you got the Pfizer brand the first one, you have to get the Pfizer brand the second one.”
Garcia says that despite the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and approved, no steps typically required for such a process were skipped or rushed.