While the first COVID-19 vaccination from Pfizer will be coming to Texas later this month, DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt said that Texans will need to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing for some time to come.
“We will need to continue in the meantime to take those personal responsibilities [. . .] because the vaccine is going to roll out over a time, and it will take several months before there is sufficient supply for it to be widely available to anyone in the general public who chooses to be vaccinated,” Hellerstedt told the committee.
The commissioner said that he sees “the mask as a vaccine that you can wear on your face” and claimed that “the peak [of COVID-19 cases] that we had in the summer came down really as a result of the wider use of masks.”
Coronavirus hospitalizations, cases, and fatalities all peaked between July 20 and July 25, about three weeks after Governor Greg Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate and about a month after the most populous local counties issued similar mandates on businesses.
Abbott’s mask mandate has remained in place since July, and though hospitalizations declined throughout August and September, they increased again throughout October and November.
Imelda Garcia, the associate commissioner of laboratory and infectious disease services at DSHS, provided more details regarding the expectations for the vaccine distribution.
Prefaced by a disclaimer that many variables are still in play that could alter the state’s plan on short notice, Garcia said that DSHS is planning the distribution with four key assumptions in mind.
First, she noted that the supply of vaccine doses later this month will be limited, though more are expected in the months to come.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allotted at least 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be distributed to Texas in December beginning next week, per an announcement from the governor’s office.
Though Pfizer’s vaccine was 95 percent effective in clinical trials it has yet to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) according to a representative speaking to the committee on Monday.
Garcia said the second assumption in Texas’ distribution plan is that the FDA will approve the vaccination under an emergency use authorization (EUA).
The process to grant an EUA for the vaccine is underway, and the secretary of Health and Human Services said that he was optimistic the authorization would be granted “within days.”
DSHS’s third assumption is that the handling and storage of vaccine doses will vary by the brand of each vaccine.
For instance, Pfizer’s vaccine is required to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures around negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Providers of the Pfizer vaccine will need to have either special deep-freeze storage appliances or access to large quantities of dry ice.
Because of the special storage requirements, Pfizer will be distributing the vaccine directly to the medical providers, while Irving-based McKesson will distribute other vaccine brands that will not require as cold temperatures and will be able to be distributed to a wider range of medical facilities across the state.
Lastly, Garcia said that in most cases, patients will require two doses of the vaccination brand that they received separated by three to four weeks.
Of the six brands developing a vaccine, five — including from Pfizer and Moderna, the two furthest along in the approval process — require two doses for immunity, while the sixth is working on a version of the vaccine that requires one dose and another that requires two.
New reports on Tuesday show that the Pfizer vaccine is effective after the first dose, but the second dose is still needed for full effectiveness.
Garcia said that DSHS would be placing data regarding vaccine distribution on a COVID-19 dashboard, similar to how the department has tracked coronavirus testing, cases, and hospitalizations.