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Houston healthcare workers on frontlines prep for COVID-19 vaccinations

Nine months into the pandemic, the moment has arrived for Houston-area hospitals to receive their first shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The much-anticipated shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine left its facility in Michigan on Sunday and are slated to arrive at 145 distribution centers on Monday.

The rollout of the vaccine couldn’t come soon enough, as the U.S. is set to record its 300,000th death due to COVID-19 this week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Houston’s M.D. Anderson was the first local hospital to receive the doses of vaccine on Monday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

“The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center received its allocation of COVID-19 vaccine early this morning. MD Anderson’s initial vaccination clinics will safely and efficiently vaccinate health care workers caring for highly immune-compromised patients and those with increased risk of occupational exposure. Vaccination clinics are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Dec. 16, to give employees time to become familiar with new information made available following emergency authorization.”

Approximately 19,500 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine arrived Monday at four Texas hospitals including MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Methodist Dallas Medical Center, UT Health Austin’s Dell Medical School, and Wellness 360 UT Health San Antonio, according to TDHS. Other Houston-area hospitals will have 75,075 doses arriving at 18 additional centers on Tuesday, according to TDHS.

According to Memorial Hermann’s CEO Dr. David Callender, the hospital system will receive 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and their first doses will arrive on Tuesday.

“We need a light at the end of the tunnel right now,” Callender said. “And it’s great that vaccines are serving as that light that we can now see.”

There are 21 hospitals in Harris County, four in Montgomery County, one in Galveston County, and Fort Bend County, respectively, which have been selected to receive the vaccine, according to TDHS.

As of Monday, hundreds of healthcare workers from Memorial Hermann have already signed up to get their shot of the new vaccine in 15-minute appointment intervals.

“I’m happier now than I’ve been literally in a year,” Memorial Hermann’s Infectious Disease Expert Linda Yancey said. “I’m very, very excited about this. They opened up registration over the weekend for the shots.”

For administration, it takes 30 minutes to thaw the vaccine, which must be stored at cold temperatures.

“One of the questions I keep getting is, ‘Is it going to be at negative 80 degrees when they inject me?’ Absolutely not. It’s going to be a nice comfortable temperature when it goes into you,” Yancey said. “You have a little shot in your arm and you’re done.”

Across the state, there will 224,250 doses shipped to 109 hospitals in 34 counties, according to TDHS.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require booster shots, according to Yancey. The Pfizer vaccine will need a booster in 21 days, and the Moderna vaccine will need a booster in 28.

“We’ve been planning for this furiously for the last couple of weeks. We’re ready to hit the ground running, as soon as we get the vaccine.” Yancey said.

Yancey also added that hospitals did not get any information for the state of Texas as to when the general population will get the vaccine.

“This vaccine is good at preventing systematic disease and it does cut down on the ability to transmit, but we still have to social distance. We still have to wear masks,” Yancey said. “Nevertheless, this is still the first unalloyed good news I’ve had in a long time.”