Houston officials prepare vaccine distribution plans ahead of potential FDA approval

The first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to Texas. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
The first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to Texas. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)

The first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to Texas. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)

Amid rising COVID-19 case counts in Houston, city officials are laying the groundwork for distributing the first shipments of vaccines available in the U.S., which could be approved as soon as Dec. 9.

At a Dec. 7 press conference, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said he submitted a list of 1,500 fire department employees, mainly paramedics, to leaders within the Houston Methodist hospital system, which will receive the first shipments.

Paramedics are among the first people eligible to receive doses of the vaccine under Gov. Greg Abbott’s guidelines, Peña said.

HFD personnel will be encouraged to get the vaccine; however, it will not be required by the department, Peña said, because officials are not allowed to mandate vaccinations that were approved through an emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We are hoping we get 100% compliance in taking the vaccine, and we will have updates on the number of firefighters vaccinated once those have been given out,” he said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he and other public officials plan to take a vaccine publicly when it is available to encourage the widespread adoption of it.

It will likely be several months into 2021 before most Houstonians will have access to a vaccine, Houston Public Health Director Stephen Williams said. When available, it will be distributed through doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other facilities typically tasked with distributing vaccines.

“I would encourage you in the strongest of terms to please, please take the vaccine,” Turner said.

To encourage vaccination among hard-to-reach populations, Williams said the health department also plans to use mobile distribution systems that are similar to its effort to set up mobile testing sites.

When vaccinated, residents will receive a card with information about the vaccine received and when a second dose will be needed, Williams said.

In its first shipment, the state of Texas is expected to receive 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Abbott announced Dec. 2.

Turner said public health requirements such as requiring mask use will continue to combat a rising infection rate in the city; however, his “nuclear option” of imposing a curfew is not yet on the table.

Houston reported 403 new COVID-19 cases from test results received over the weekend, and the total death count in the city rose by two to 1,467.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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