When the vaccine comes, there probably will be a line.
With news Monday that drug company Pfizer had strong results from its COVID-19 vaccine, thoughts are turning to how the drug will be shared with the masses.
The company reported that preliminary results show the drug is 90 percent effective at preventing infection.
Work and research remain to be done on the vaccine before it’s distributed, but federal approval for its use could come within weeks, experts said.
Even if it happens that soon, most people should brace themselves for a wait, said Dr. Janak Patel, the director of infection control and health epidemiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
The first people to get vaccinated will be doctors and other front-line workers who are treating people sick with the virus. After them, people who are most at risk from the virus, including older people and people with pre-existing health conditions, would be prioritized.
It could be months after approval before the general public is able to get vaccinated, Patel said.
The medical branch has convened a task force to plan how to distribute the vaccine.
The medical branch will play a large role in local distribution of a vaccine because of its outsized presence in Galveston County. It also has the ultra-cold refrigerators needed to store the Pfizer drug, Patel said.
“There are requirements of vaccine delivery that may be hard, in the beginning at least, for some players to be ready,” Patel said. “UTMB will be ready when the vaccine is available.”
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored in “ultra low-temperature” freezers that can drop to -80 degrees Fahrenheit, Patel said
“No community physician would have that kind of freezer,” Patel said. “Even the pharmacies that are setting up to be vaccination sites, like Walgreens, typically they wouldn’t have these freezers.”
Not every vaccine being developed requires such measures. Others being developed by companies such as Moderna and AstraZeneca require only that vaccines be frozen or refrigerated.
Patel’s estimates about vaccine availability were in line with those laid out by the Texas Department of State Health Services, which published the outline of a statewide vaccine distribution plan in October.
The department’s plan assumed a vaccine wouldn’t be available to the entire population until July 2021, at the earliest.
The state planned a media campaign to explain why vaccines are important and said people who receive a vaccine might be tracked through a smartphone-based app, allowing health care providers to check in with people and identify adverse reactions, according to the outline.
The department was applying lessons learned from the confusing and shortage-plagued rollout of the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 to its COVID-19 vaccination plan, according to the outline.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday reiterated the state’s readiness to distribute vaccines.
More than 2,500 health care providers already have enrolled in a program to help distribute the vaccine once it’s available, Abbott said.
“Swift distribution of vaccines and medical treatments will begin to heal those suffering from COVID-19, slow the spread of the virus and aid in reducing hospitalizations of Texans,” Abbott said.
“As we anticipate the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, the state of Texas is prepared to quickly distribute those medicines to Texans who voluntarily choose to use them.”
More than shortages, Patel was worried about people not trusting a vaccine, even after it has been tested in tens of thousands of people and cleared for medical use, he said.
“The demand, hopefully, is there,” Patel said. “Our fear is that people may look at this COVID vaccine with more suspicion than perhaps other vaccines. We are hoping that people will want it.”