After months of anticipation about how fast a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine could be produced, select Houston-area hospitals are scrambling to prepare for shipments of the first one, possibly as soon as next week.
Texas Children’s, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and MD Anderson Cancer Center are currently in talks with local, state and federal officials about the vaccine shipments, to be earmarked for front-line health care workers. Planning is particularly complicated because of the need to store the vaccine in specialized, ultra-cold freezers, then thaw it out and administer it in a short time.
“This is a tremendous development in the fight against this pandemic,” Mark Wallace, president of Texas Children’s Hospital, wrote in an email to employees this week. “I can think of no greater challenge we have had to overcome together, and I can think of no better news to hear than that Texas Children’s will be given such a vital tool in combating this highly infectious disease.”
Wallace wrote that Texas Children’s has received confirmation it is “pre-positioned to receive a shipment next week,” but hospital officials clarified Saturday that there is “no definitive timeline at this point.” Other Houston hospital officials said they’ve heard the shipments could arrive anytime between Monday and mid-December.
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The vaccine cannot be administered until the Food and Drug Administration grants it emergency use approval, something not expected until early- to mid-December, according to reports. But the vaccine likely will be shipped to select hospitals beforehand so doses can be delivered as soon as possible, officials said.
Pfizer submitted data for such emergency use Friday, less than two weeks after announcing that a preliminary analysis found the vaccine prevented COVID-19 more than 90 percent of the time, an efficacy level considered remarkable. The flu vaccine, by comparison, protects about 50 percent of the time.
FDA regulators likely will 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. That meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 10.
Twelve Texas sites thus far have been “pre-positioned” to receive shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. More are expected to be added to the list.
“That we should start to see a flow of the vaccine soon is great news,” said Roberta Schwartz, president of Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. “We are very excited about being able to bring the vaccine first to front line workers, who’ve done such an incredible job of taking care of COVID-19 patients since February and through this current surge.”