It’s music to many physicians’ ears to hear people clamoring for their COVID-19 vaccine. The virus has damaged the economy and taken far too many lives. A year ago, it was unbelievable that effective, safe vaccines could be delivered in less than a year from the first identification of a new pathogen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out guidelines to help states prioritize the groups to be vaccinated. These guidelines take into account exposure risk such as occupational exposure and medical risk.

Health care workers with potential exposure to COVID-19 are in the first group to be vaccinated as it’s important to keep the workforce healthy to care for those who become ill with COVID-19 and other diseases. Also in this group are residents of long-term care facilities because they’re at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19.

States aren’t required to strictly follow the CDC’s guidelines. Texas has given a higher priority to those 65 and older than the CDC’s guidelines recommend. States also receive their shipments on different schedules and distribute them to different types of health care facilities. For example, some states mostly distributed their allotment to large hospital systems whereas others sent theirs to health departments and other public health entities.

We hope all Texan health care workers and nursing home residents have already received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines. Vaccination of the next group has begun and includes those 65 and older or those 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions. High-risk conditions include, but aren’t limited to, cancer, chronic heart, lung and kidney disease, diabetes melliltus, weakened immune system, sickle cell disease and obesity. Patients on certain medications that suppress the immune system should discuss the timing of their vaccination with their health care professional before getting the vaccine.

The amount of the vaccine available lags behind the number of people that need it. However, production is increasing. A couple more vaccines should be completing their clinical trials and, if successful, filing for emergency use authorization. This will help speed getting the population vaccinated.

If you’re in one of these risk groups, please contact your primary care physician to see how you can be vaccinated. You also can visit http://dshs.texas.gov to see where you can be vaccinated.

If you’re not in one of these groups, your turn will likely be within the next couple of months. As of now, all those already vaccinated will need their second dose in three or four weeks (depending on whether Pfizer or Moderna vaccine received, respectively). As people complete their vaccinations and the supply increases, new groups will be added to the eligibility list.

Clinical trials need to continue because we don’t know how long protection from any of the COVID-19 vaccines will last. Ideally, we would have vaccines available that only require one dose, that don’t require stringent cold storage and perhaps that can be taken by mouth.

Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email vaccine.smarts@utmb.edu.

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