General public could receive vaccinations by July

FILE - In this Monday, July 27, 2020 file photo, a nurse prepares a syringe during a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. With coronavirus vaccines on the horizon, when and where will most Americans get their shots? Many of the details are still being worked out, as regulators review the first vaccine candidates. A federal panel of vaccine experts is meeting this week to consider Pfizer's vaccine, and again next week for Moderna's. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Texas health officials on Monday said they hoped to start vaccinating the general public by next July, though that could change based on type of vaccine and how many doses the state receives.

In its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan update, the Texas Department of State Health Services laid out its phased approach to vaccinations, with the health agency expecting to have about 1.5 million vaccine doses available for limited distribution by the end of the month to hospital staff treating COVID-19 patients, as well as staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

A second phase, set to run from February to July, would increase the number of available doses to ensure access to those critical populations that remained unvaccinated.

That would mean vaccinations for the general public wouldn’t be in full swing until mid-summer, according to Dr. Imelda Garcia with DSHS.

“You’ll see the state will be involved in COVID-19 vaccine distribution for quite some time, and likely for close to a year just based on what we’re anticipating right now,” Garcia told a state Senate Health and Human Services Committee panel on Monday.

A fourth phase, projected to begin in October of 2021, would include boosters and would make vaccines available through private providers.

Around 225,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will likely begin to be administered next week, according to the state’s plan, which is subject to change. Just under 50,000 of those doses are for hospital systems in Harris County, such as Memorial Hermann, Houston Methodist and Harris Health.

“All systems are loaded,” said Saroj Rai, who works in the immunization unit at DSHS. “All selected hospitals are ready to go, and upon the issuance of emergency use authorization, those facilities will be ready to receive vaccine shipment.”

Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Galveston counties are also slated to receive first-week doses, according to the state health department.

Some health officials had previously expressed hope that the vaccine would be available by April, but nonetheless urged the public not to drop its guard.

Dr. David Persse, Houston health authority, has continued to stress following public safety guidelines like social distancing and face coverings.

“We hear people like Dr. Fauci and others on the federal level talk about when the average person is going to have it,” Persse said late last month. “I’m hearing April is a common answer to that. I’m gonna put an asterisk with that answer, because we’re going to have to see how fast it comes out and how fast it is consumed.”

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, which is set to receive nearly 3,000 doses of the vaccine, said it was expecting its first doses any day now. And that might be before FDA grants Pfizer emergency authorization, hospital officials said.

In line with Texas guidelines, these doses will go to hospital employees that are working directly with COVID-19 patients in the ER and ICU, as well as EMS workers.

UTMB may receive more doses about a week after the first shipment, and Dr. Phillip Keiser, who is leading UTMB’s vaccine preparedness team, said the hospital may be able to vaccinate nearly 1,000 people a day.

“We think we’re ready, but we also recognize that the first couple weeks of this are probably going to be very confused and we have to be nimble and be flexible,” Keiser said.