Travis County officials are preparing for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Dec. 2 that Texas is set to receive its first shipment of over 1.4 million doses. Voluntary vaccinations for high-priority groups in Texas will begin the week of Dec. 14, according to a statement from Abbott's office.

Local officials have not specified a date the vaccine will become available in Travis County—or who will be eligible to receive it—as they await further guidance from Abbott’s office.

“It’s not clear yet how prescriptive the state's going to be for the phases of the distribution, but our hope is that we can cover those those high risk individuals early on,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, during a Dec. 2 news conference with other Austin Public Health leaders.

Abbott has said that health care workers who “provide direct care to COVID-19 patients and other vulnerable residents” will likely have access to the vaccine first, followed by high-risk individuals and other front-line workers. Escott said that if given discretion, his top priority would be offering vaccines to the employees and residents of nursing homes.

Neither the governor’s office nor the CDC has specified which specific vaccine among numerous candidates will be authorized in this first allotment. Two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have requested emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to distribute and administer their vaccines, both of which have shown around 95% effectiveness, according to the companies. The FDA has not yet announced approval of either.

Locally, officials say they are prepared to distribute either vaccine as they become available.

“The efficacy between the two is very similar,” Escott said. “One of the most remarkable things from the preliminary data that has been shared is that zero of those individuals who received the vaccine had a severe case of COVID-19. So, not only are we talking about preventing disease spread, we're talking about—at least, at this stage—completely preventing severe cases.”

Aside from those “front-runner vaccines,” Cassandra DeLeon, interim assistant director for disease prevention in APH’s Health Promotion Division, said there are six other candidates that could also eventually enter the market.

Even though a vaccine is on the horizon, APH officials stressed the importance of continued vigilance against coronavirus and influenza.

“We are very excited about the vaccine, but we also want to just remind people that we want them to stay the course and continue to watch their distance, wash their hands, make sure they wear their mask, stay home if they’re ill and follow the guidelines that we have in place,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden said. “Those things are going to be important as we wait for the vaccine and even after the vaccine is here.”