AUSTIN (KXAN) — With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel voting Thursday to recommend approval of Emergency Use Authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the possibility of a rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. feels more tangible than ever. With the panel’s vote of approval, an FDA authorization in the near future appears likely.
If this vaccine is given authorization by U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday, state health leaders have said the first week’s allocation of 224,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine could be shipped to 109 hospitals in 304 counties in Texas as early as next week.
Local and state governments have already been planning for the expected approval of the Pfizer and other vaccines, so we already know quite a bit about how the vaccine will be distributed in Texas once it is available.
How soon could doses reach Texas?
Chris Van Deusen, the Director of Media Relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), said he believes it’s likely the FDA will issue an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in the next few days. Whenever that authorization is issued, he said “vaccines could start rolling” 24 hours after that point.
Van Deusen expects within several days, certainly within the week, of the Pfizer vaccine’s approval that it will arrive at Texas healthcare facilities. But he noted in addition to the FDA’s authorization, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee will also have to approve Pfizer’s vaccine before Texas healthcare facilities can start administering it.
Where will the first doses go?
Texas leaders have already made it clear that key healthcare workers will be the first to receive this vaccine.
“I wish we had enough for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated in this first week to be vaccinated, but it’s just not possible,” Van Deusen said.
DSHS released a list of the major healthcare facilities across the state which will receive COVID-19 vaccine doses in the first week the vaccine is available.
DSHS said the vaccine will be shipped on dry ice in a thermal box and that the federal government will provide “one re-charge of dry ice” that should keep the vaccines stable for at least five days, if they are kept at the right temperature.
While initially, the ultra-cold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine stirred some concerns about distribution in Texas, Van Deusen said the greatest limiting factor with this vaccine has actually turned out to be the requirement for the size of the orders for the vaccine. He said Thursday the state decided not to restrict any region’s access to this Pfizer vaccine based on regional storage abilities.
The first week of vaccines distributed in Texas will go to medical facilities with at least 975 people on site, as 975 doses is the minimum amount required to receive the Pfizer vaccine right now.
Different Texas hospitals have been allocated different amounts of vaccine doses, and Van Deusen said that is all based on the number of healthcare workers each facility believes it can quickly vaccinate.
What happens next?
While Texas awaits the Pfizer vaccine’s approval from federal regulators, state leaders also expect the approval of the Moderna vaccine to follow soon after.
This initial group of doses, Van Deusen expects, will be “probably the smallest allocation” Texas gets during the vaccine rollout.
“We expect more vaccine will be available in week two [of vaccine distribution], and it will be going to more providers,” he said.
There is a larger list of providers in regions around the state, which will receive shipments of the vaccine after the initial group of major hospitals received theirs. But DSHS said they haven’t posted that list yet as the specifics are still being ironed out.
“The Week Two plan is to expand distribution to more facilities and more types of facilities, we don’t have a final list yet, we are working on that now,” he said.
“Looking at things overall, this is really good news,” Van Deusen said. “But this is just the first kind of step in a long process.”
“I think people still need to be patient, it’s going to take months to get the vaccine available for everyone who wants to get it,” he continued. “We need to take those public health steps that we’ve been talking about for so long: wear a mask, stay home where you can.”