After months of waiting for how quickly a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 can be produced, four hospitals in Houston are trying to prepare for shipments of the first, probably in mid-December.
Texas Children, a Houston Methodist, Memorial Herman and Dr. Anderson confirmed on Saturday that they are in talks with local, state and federal officials about shipments to be destined for first-line hospital workers. Talks are needed to coordinate the storage of the vaccine in ultra-cold freezers, followed by thawing and administration of a large number of workers for a short time.
“This is a huge development in the fight against this pandemic,” Mark Wallace, chief executive of Texas Children̵
Wallace wrote that Texas Children’s had received confirmation that it was “able to receive a shipment next week,” but hospital officials said Saturday that “there is no final schedule at this time.”
Later Saturday, a Houston health department official suggested calling the schedule for sometime in December. She said the final word was that the vaccine would not be sent to hospitals until the Food and Drug Administration gave it approval for emergency use.
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Such approval is not expected to be given for nearly three weeks.
Drugmaker Pfizer released data on such emergency use on Friday, less than two weeks after announcing that a preliminary analysis found that the vaccine prevented COVID-19 more than 90 percent of the time, a level of efficacy considered remarkable. . By comparison, the flu vaccine protects about 50 percent of the time.
FDA regulators are likely to take about three weeks to review the data before an outside panel of experts meets to review Pfizer’s application, the New York Times reported Friday. This meeting is scheduled for December 10.
Hospitals in Houston were chosen to receive the vaccine first because they have a large workforce and freezers capable of storing the vaccine at the required -94 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 975 doses of vaccine in each shipment, so it would be futile to send shipments to smaller hospitals.
A Houston hospital official said 12 Texas sites were “pre-positioned” to receive shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, and more would be added to the list. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Health declined to give a number on Saturday because the agency “is still in the process of finalizing the sites.”
Although frontline hospital workers will begin receiving the vaccine in December, healthy Americans should not expect their first doses until April, said Dr. Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Priority after health workers will be first responders, people in nursing homes, people with a health condition and the elderly.
But Houston hospital officials said shipments would be an important milestone next month.
“The fact that we should soon start seeing a flow of vaccines is great news,” said Roberta Schwartz, president of the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas Medical Center. “We are very excited to be able to vaccinate first-line workers who have done such an amazing job of caring for COVID-19 patients since February and this current jump.”