AUSTIN, Texas - A UPS driver who loaded up one box Thursday morning is expected to save at least 5000 lives. The box was filled with that many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Before it left a distribution center in East Austin, UPS officials had this to say about the delivery.
"As the holiday season approaches this box right behind us here is the most important gift that we can give somebody this Christmas season," said Nick D’Andre, VP for Public Affairs with UPS.
Ten UPS drivers are assigned to the special delivery job in Austin. Seventeen boxes arrived here Thursday morning from a Louisville distribution hub which vaccine maker Pfizer is using. Gov. Greg Abbott predicted more than a million people will be vaccinated in Texas by the end of the month because of this massive logistical effort.
"Before coming out here today, before today we had already delivered about 95,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Today an additional 129,000 doses will be delivered across the state of Texas so that means that for this week we have about 224,000 doses of vaccine that will be delivered," said Abbott.
State officials say even with a rapid distribution plan, manufacturing will have to catch up and people will need to be patient. Abbott has received letters like one from officials in Fort Bend County urging him to move teachers up higher in the waiting line for vaccinations.
Thursday morning the governor agreed teachers should be considered frontline workers. "I urge and I hope that teachers will be near the front line in receiving this vaccine," said Abbott.
According to the state vaccine distribution plan, teachers right now are part of the second phase of distribution. State Health Authority Dr. John Hellerstedt said moving them up may be considered by a health advisory group, but he made no promise that would happen.
"It’s a 17 member panel and it’s really truly an expert panel they have a very solid sense if you will of bioethics and how to manage the biome ethics that we all believe in to make that happen in terms of the next phase of this distribution of the vaccine," said Dr. Hellerstedt.
The next round of vaccines will go to clinics and other medical practices, pharmacies, freestanding emergency rooms, urgent care centers, long-term healthcare facilities, state hospitals, local health departments, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. There is no firm date yet as to when anyone will be able to get a vaccine whenever they want one.
The timeline for widespread availability remains a moving target. The governor did suggest it could happen before March. He was certain about one thing.
"It is time to put behind us shutdowns, no more shutdowns, we need to focus on opening up businesses, one thing we know today is that every adult in the state of Texas knows exactly what COVID-19 is, they know how to protect themselves from it, they know how to prevent spreading it. Every adult in Texas has the responsibility to follow safe practices as we continue to work our way out of this," said Abbott.
With that, the governor and health officials say the best defense now remains wearing masks. The distribution of the vaccine only represents the beginning of a long road to recovery.