Texas working to finalize COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans

HOUSTON – Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Texas is expecting to receive 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the week of Dec 14. State health officials said these doses will be distributed across the state to hospital systems.

“That’s where we know they’ve got the staff, that medical staff is located in one place and they can start vaccinating a lot of people at one time,” said Chris Van Deusen with the Dept. of State Health Services.

Van Deusen said Texas is expected to follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations the initial doses be given to healthcare workers, followed closely by nursing home residents and staff. Van Deusen said the state estimates there are 1.6 million healthcare workers. While it does not track an exact census, the Texas Health and Human Services Commissions estimates there are 90,000 nursing home residents.

“When can Texas expect to see more doses to start coming in?” asked KPRC Investigator Robert Arnold.

“So that’s the allocation for December, it will be weekly, on-going,” said Van Deusen. “We’ll get notified each week by CDC about how many doses we’re going to get the following week.”

From there the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel will decide where the doses go. Frontline workers, those critical to the economy, and those at greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19 are next in line.

Meanwhile, hospital systems are finalizing their plans to vaccinate staff.

“We’re designing sites to administer the vaccine to get people through as efficiently as possible, said Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs for Baylor College of Medicine.

McDeavitt said the process will have to be staggered across 14,000 employees, medical students and nursing home residents. McDeavitt said its expected some receiving the vaccine will experience symptoms.

“It is likely after you get the vaccination you’ll have some soreness, you could have a low grade fever, which are symptoms,” said McDeavitt. “We’re going to stagger this over a period of time so we don’t have everybody having symptoms, which could be COVID-19 symptoms.”

McDeavitt estimates the vaccine will be available to the general public in April or May.

“Today it changes nothing. We still need to mask, distance, maintain our skepticism of other people, make sure you think everybody else might be infected. Avoid crowded indoor spaces,” said McDeavitt.

Pfizer’s vaccine is expected to be the first granted emergency use authorization from the FDA, followed closely by Moderna’s vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine is required to be stored in sub-zero temperatures. McDeavitt said healthcare providers had to provide the federal government with the serial numbers of its freezers to ensure the vaccine could be stored properly.

Van Deusen said test runs are already being done to make sure the shipping process is working properly.

“Just shipping things, make sure they arrive at the right temperature and the right time because it’s the Pfizer vaccine that requires that ultra-cold storage, so it’s got to be shipped at close to 100-degrees below zero,” said Van Deusen.

Van Deusen said while the Moderna vaccine also has to be shipped frozen. It can survive in refrigerated settings for up to 30 days.

“The Moderna vaccine gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of where we can send it in the state,” said Van Deusen. “We expect we use that in smaller communities, smaller providers, more rural areas to make sure we’ve got the whole state covered.”

These initial vaccines will also require two doses. When a person receives their first dose they’ll get a paper shot record stating which vaccine they’ve received and when to return for the second dose. The person’s name is also entered into the state’s immunization registry. This is important to keep track of which vaccine a person receives.

“They’ll be able to look it up and know, ‘ok, you got the Pfizer the first time, you got to get the Pfizer the second time,’ because you can’t mix and match them,” said Van Deusen.

Other manufacturers like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Jonson are also working on vaccines.