AUSTIN (KXAN) — As of Saturday, nearly 63% of people in Travis County ages 12 and up have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
On Friday, Austin Public Health leaders said their biggest challenge now is getting that last percentage of the population vaccinated.
Meanwhile, vaccine makers are already preparing for the possibility of additional booster shots, with a trial for Pfizer’s third shot set to begin in Austin next month.
“My business took a major hit,” says Nico Saldivar, who has signed up with Benchmark Research for that trial.
After a close call with COVID-19 exposure during the pandemic, the massage therapist decided to go from 25 hours a week to zero.
“People weren’t calling for massages and if they were, I wasn’t necessarily quite ready, I guess, to risk it,” he says.
When the opportunity opened to participate in Benchmark’s initial Pfizer COVID-19 trial for adults, he took it, and not just to protect himself.
“It’s kind of helping the world get back to normal,” Saldivar says.
Benchmark’s Pfizer booster shot trial is only open to previous participants, with enrollment ending Aug. 8.
“These are subjects who participated in the original study that led to the approval — or the EUA approval,” says Cynthia Dukes, Benchmark Research’s chief business officer.
Right now, the CDC says the need and timing “for COVID-19 booster doses have not been established…” and aren’t recommended at this time.
But Pfizer hopes to enroll 10,000 globally for their study, with each site, including Benchmark in Austin, aiming for 250.
“I attend the WHO-CDC meetings and the discussion is this will probably be like flu, where we will run year-round surveillance and vaccinate every year and tweak the vaccine for strains as required, just like we do for influenza,” Dukes says.
She adds that because the Coronavirus tends to mutate more quickly, a booster may be needed even more frequently.
“There’s also been some discussion that may be looking at the variants once a year, like we do with flu, may not be enough; we may need to do it twice a year,” she says.
Benchmark aims to start their trial here in Austin on June 28, with participants ages 16 and up.
Saldivar sees it as a chance to help science stay ahead of the virus.
“It’s scary; I do– I have some backup plans cooking up where maybe I don’t necessarily have to take such a financial hit if massage kind of gets squashed out, again,” he says.
But he’s hoping he doesn’t have to use them.
“I’m just ready to be back to normal without the fear of it coming back, again,” he says.
Benchmark Research says they have more booster dose trials for other companies coming up but can’t disclose those, just yet.