As Texas awaits 1.4 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Burnet County health officials are preparing for the rollout. The vaccine will be distributed in a phased approach, with frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable residents at the top of the list.
“We’re definitely on the list (to receive vaccine doses),” said Dr. Jules Madrigal, a physician and the Burnet County Local Health Authority. “It’s going to be done in phases with first-line healthcare workers in the first phase.”
Madrigal doesn’t expect the vaccine to be available for most of the general public until later next year.
Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced that Texas should get 1.4 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in December. Currently, two vaccines — one by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech and the other by Moderna — are close to emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state will receive about 224,350 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first week of allocation. The DSHS has identified 109 hospitals in 34 counties to receive the doses once the vaccine is authorized for use in the United States.
As more are allocated, including the Moderna vaccine, the state will continue to distribute them.
Under the state’s vaccine allocation plan, the DSHS is taking a phased approach as to who voluntarily gets it. The first on the list are frontline medical staff working with patients at high risk for the disease. The top tier of recipients also include long-term care staff who work directly with vulnerable residents, EMS providers who respond to 911 calls, home healthcare workers who are directly involved with high-risk patients, and residents of long-term care facilities.
Of the two vaccines closest to emergency use authorization, Madrigal anticipates that when Burnet County gets an allocation, it will probably be the Moderna version. While both have been shown to be highly effective in trials, Madrigal pointed out that the Pfizer vaccine requires extremely cold storage temperatures, something not all medical offices outside of hospitals are capable of providing.
The Moderna vaccine doesn’t require such extreme storage temperatures.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “mRNA” vaccines, Madrigal added.
Most traditional vaccines use weakened or dead forms of a virus, or laboratory-generated protein, in their makeup. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use messenger RNA technology. These vaccines utilize a piece of the virus’ genetic code, which tells the body’s cells to construct a “spike” protein on the virus cells. This helps the body’s cells, particularly those affiliated with the immune system, to recognize the virus.
The immune system can then send out specialized cells that identify the virus by these spike proteins to eliminate them and use other specialized cells to block the virus from infecting a healthy cell.
Madrigal admitted she initially was not comfortable with the COVID-19 vaccines but has become much more confident in them and their effectiveness after the government and companies made researchers available to physicians and healthcare workers like herself.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the FDA released a detailed analysis of the vaccine by Pfizer and partner BioNTech with a determination that the administration did not find any specific safety reasons to not issue an emergency use authorization. On Thursday, Dec. 10, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, an independent board of experts, will meet to review Pfizer’s vaccine and request such authorization. This board will make a recommendation to the FDA.
The Moderna vaccine is slated to go before the board on Dec. 17.
Currently, both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines will likely require two doses, an initial one and a followup dose in about 21 days to a month.
Madrigal said people could experience a mild reaction after receiving the vaccination.
“They’ll have some redness and swelling around the injection site,” she said. “You’ll experience some flu-like symptoms, you know, maybe fatigue or tiredness for day or two.”
Until the vaccines are readily available, health officials stress the importance of COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands frequently.
Madrigal said COVID-19 cases are holding steady in Burnet County, though she’d prefer the numbers to be decreasing. As of Dec. 7, the county had a confirmed 1,526 total cases and 230 active cases, according to DSHS numbers. As for hospital rooms and ICU beds, Madrigal said Baylor Scott & White Health has done a good job at handling those needs.
“We’re about at 75 percent capacity for hospital rooms and 75 percent for ICU,” she said.