AUSTIN (KXAN) — A virtual town hall featuring Austin Public Health officials took place on Thursday and included details on how Travis County will distribute COVID-19 vaccines, which groups of people will take priority and what is still unknown.
The town hall featured APH Director Stephanie Hayden and Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. It was sponsored by the Travis County Medical Society and University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. Travis County Medical Society President Dr. John Abikhaled and Dell Medical School Dean Dr. Clay Johnston moderated the town hall.
When’s it coming?
Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday the first batch of vaccinations will be in Texas in less than two weeks.
Escott said Texas will receive the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December and then the Moderna vaccine a couple of weeks afterward. Both vaccines will be administered in two doses several weeks apart after being frozen and refrigerated, according to Escott’s slide presentation.
Who gets the first doses?
Travis County will prioritize vaccine distribution initially for healthcare workers and people who are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, Escott said.
The Texas Department of State Health services will provide guidance to local jurisdictions regarding distribution restrictions, according to Hayden’s presentation. In Region 7, which includes counties such as Travis, Hays and Williamson, there are over one million people with a high-risk medical condition, 30,000 long-term care residents, 9,000 active EMS providers and 460,000 adults over the age of 65.
What do we know about the vaccine?
Escott said the side effects of the vaccine will be similar to those of the flu vaccine, such as pain at the site of injection. He added that officials are also waiting for more information on how the vaccine will affect groups such as children younger than 12 and pregnant women.
“As with any other vaccine or treatment, we’re going to have to weigh the evidence that we have in hand and the risks and benefits associated with that individual patient,” Escott said.
Escott says they’re also waiting for more information about whether the vaccines will stop the virus from replicating, and not just prevent symptoms in those who receive it. He said there is some evidence that the vaccines will also be able to prevent transmission of COVID-19. If that’s the case, “we’re talking about a timeline of returning to normalcy and, and, you know, having a big bonfire for the masks much sooner,” Escott said.
How will it be delivered?
Pfizer is testing its delivery system for its vaccine in Texas, and DSHS has an agreement with the drug manufacturer to distribute its vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna reported their vaccines were more than 90% effective in clinical trials. Pfizer received emergency use clearance in the UK earlier this week, and both manufacturers are aiming for the same designation in the U.S. shortly.
Hayden said the Department of State Health services will provide training to providers who sign up for the vaccines on how to handle and administer them. She said providers cannot charge patients for the vaccine itself but can charge an administrative fee.
“You have to pay the people who are providing the vaccine,” Hayden said. “That is how some of the providers are going to be able to recoup their costs.”
APH will work with students from the Dell Medical School to help provide the vaccine, Hayden said. People can also volunteer to help APH with the vaccination process after an orientation and confidentiality agreement.