AUSTIN, Texas - Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services have released a plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved and available. The first phase of that plan is expected to begin as early as next month in Texas.
The promise of a vaccine seems like the world's best bet to get back to life as we knew it.
"We want to achieve what we call herd immunity and that's when there are enough people in the population who are either immune, because of that natural infection or because they received the vaccine, such that the virus can't actually spread any further. And so, if we have enough people in our community who are vaccinated, we're inevitably protecting those who are unvaccinated or unable to be vaccinated," said Dr. Darlene Bhavnani, infectious disease epidemiologist at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.
In order to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19, most experts believe between 60-80% of the population will need to be vaccinated or infected. With such high demand for a vaccine, some groups will receive priority in the first few months.
"So, it's definitely going to be hospital-based and emergency room-based, emergency medical technicians, those folks will be getting the vaccine first," said Dr. Norman Chenven, founding CEO of Austin Regional Clinic who has been sitting in on vaccine distribution meetings with Austin Public Health.
Austin Public Health will be in charge of distribution in the Austin area.
After medical professionals, frontline workers, including first responders, are next on the list. "After that, you have to look at the chronically ill, nursing home patients, those over 65, and so on. So, it's going to be a real effort," Chenven said.
Doctors said the healthy, young population will likely be offered the vaccine closer to the Spring or Summer months. At least thus far, no Texans will be mandated to receive it.
"We believe that 75-80% of healthcare workers will take the vaccine. So far, there have been no bad outcomes to speak of and there's always that danger that there's something there's a late-developing problem. We have a reasonable expectation that it's going to be a safe vaccine," said Chenven.
However, there are still groups who have yet to be tested during vaccine trials, like pregnant women and children under 12 years old. Epidemiologists are urging scientists to conduct studies with those populations.
Still, the fear that some community or social groups could all out refuse the vaccine is a major hurdle for the medical community. "You might have whole populations meeting up together with really low levels of vaccination. So, it's possible that we could see outbreaks, even if we do reach certain levels of herd immunity across the city," Bhavnani said.
Doctors said even in the months after the vaccine is distributed, it will be important for people to wear masks and social distance.