AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday marks a historic day in Travis County, as UT Health Austin Dell Medical School received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The shipment arrived at the facility Monday morning, bringing excitement and widespread attention along with it.

“Part of the reason this is so exciting is because this is our community’s—and the world’s—first step toward combating this virus,” said Dr. Amy Young, Chief Clinical Officer at UT Health Austin Dell Medical School.

UT Health Austin says it’s received 2,925 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. So what happens now?

Who gets it first?

University healthcare workers who deal directly with sick patients get first priority.

Young says recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide a framework for distribution. She says from there, the state of Texas has outlined categories for healthcare providers based on their need for the vaccine.

UT Health Austin expects to vaccinate more than 2,900 healthcare providers over the next 10 days. Vaccinations will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Those vaccinated will then need to return in 17 to 20 days for a booster.

Some doses of the vaccine will also be administered to providers, staff and medical students working with UT Health Austin to distribute the first round.

Hard work to help make history

Preparing the facility to hit the ground running was many hours in the making, with Young explaining she worked over 24 hours over the weekend. And, she’s certainly not alone among her colleagues.

“It’s been grueling,” Young said. “Not just the amount of work, but the extended time period we’ve been working in this way and this fashion.”

Going forward, staffing will be staggered, so patients can have around-the-clock help should side effects manifest. Constant staffing will also be needed for future vaccine arrivals.

There are 224,250 doses on the way to 110 different sites the Lone Star State, and several hospitals around Austin are set to receive them in order to vaccinate healthcare workers first.

The Texas Department of State Health Services will send the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines to the following hospitals in the Austin-area:

  • Seton Medical Center Austin – 2,925 doses
  • UT Health Austin (Dell Medical School) – 2,925 doses (UT Austin said these are the doses going to its campus)
  • Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas – 1,950 doses
  • Dell Seton Medical Center At University of Texas – 1,950 doses
  • South Austin Medical Center – 975 doses
  • Austin State Hospital – 975 doses
  • North Austin Medical Center – 975 doses
  • St. David’s Medical Center – 975 doses
  • Round Rock Medical Center Round Rock – 975
  • Baylor Scott White Health MC Round Rock – 975

It’s unclear which exact day the hospitals will receive their shipment. A DSHS spokesperson said Monday the department does not have a distribution schedule beyond Tuesday.

Both St. David’s HealthCare and Baylor Scott & White Health say they encourage their workers to get vaccinated, but it’s not required. St. David’s says it worked diligently to prepare for vaccine arrival and hopes to receive its first shipment this week. Baylor Scott & White Health says it will begin vaccinating workers as soon as this week after “working tirelessly for months” to make sure it was ready to receive, store and distribute it.

But it will all be worth it, Young added.

“Slowly but surely, this will be a step toward the future—both in the healthcare environment but eventually for all of our country and our population.”

The next shipment of vaccines are expected to arrive in Texas on Tuesday and in Austin on Wednesday.

The spokesperson said the state had to be strategic in choosing which healthcare systems they prioritized for this first week of delivery, because the Pfizer vaccine must be delivered in shipments of nearly 1,000 doses.

“Any of the providers who had registered with us and said, ‘We will be vaccinating at least 975 health care workers’—because that’s that number one priority group—that’s who received the vaccine this week,” said Chris Van Deusen, the DSHS spokesperson.

Next week, they plan to add more providers across the state to the list, and eventually add long-term care facilities.

“We expect this is probably the smallest vaccine allocation that we are going to get, because it is just the Pfizer vaccine,” Van Deusen said.

He said the state is expecting the Moderna vaccine to be approved soon, which will allow for more “flexibility” in distribution. It does not have to be stored in quite as cold temperatures as Pfizer’s vaccine and can be delivered in smaller shipments of around 100 doses.

“That’s what we will be able to send to smaller providers, to more rural parts of the state,” he said.  

While the arrival of vaccines is a glimmer of hope, Young said it’s not an excuse to halt personal responsibility and says all residents should continue practicing safety measures like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings.

“We are starting this today. Maybe it’s the beginning of the end but it’s not the end,” Van Deusen agreed. “We can’t let our guard down now. We don’t want to see an increase in the virus, an increase in cases just as the vaccine is arriving. That will make it just take that much longer for the vaccine to be able to get things under control.”