Nobody’s certain when the first COVID-19 vaccines will be available, but you can take important steps now to make sure you’re ready to vaccinate patients quickly once the shots arrive, state health leaders said this week.
In a joint video released Wednesday, Texas Medical Association President Diana Fite, MD, and John Hellerstedt, MD, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), urged physicians and medical facilities to enroll in the DSHS Immunization Program in order to receive doses of and administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
“While precautions like mask wearing and physical distancing can help reduce cases, COVID-19 vaccination will be an integral component in combatting this disease and ending the pandemic in Texas,” Dr. Fite said in the video.
So far, no COVID-19 vaccine has been licensed in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. But health authorities have said one could be licensed as early as November, and a limited number of doses may be available soon, Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner of laboratory and infectious disease services at DSHS, told Texas Medicine Today.
“What we know is that a vaccine could be available potentially next month,” she said. “But we don’t know which vaccine it will be. We don’t know if it’s going to be November 1 or November 28 or December or January.”
When a vaccine is ready, it will likely be a “game changer,” Dr. Hellerstedt says in the video.
“It’s the thing that will break the back of COVID-19 and allow us to go forward to a better future,” he said.
DSHS expects only a limited number of doses to be available at first, and those doses will largely be reserved for health care workers and critical infrastructure workers such as law enforcement officers, Ms. Garcia said. However, there is no guarantee everyone in those groups will be able to receive vaccines, she said.
TMA in September recommended that physicians and other high-risk workers in health care facilities be among the first to receive a vaccine.
DSHS also will hold a virtual meeting, which will be held via Microsoft Teams, at 1 pm (CT) Monday, Oct. 19. Sign up to make public comments online or submit written comments via email. The meeting’s agenda is available in the Texas Register.
Most physicians probably will not be able to offer COVID-19 vaccines to patients until early 2021, but they should not wait until then to enroll with DSHS, agency spokesman Chris Van Deusen told Texas Medicine Today.
“We want to get providers enrolled as soon as possible to get that infrastructure in place,” he said.
Enrollment is most urgent for the physicians and medical institutions that plan to provide COVID-19 vaccines, including hospitals, medical practices, and long-term care facilities, Ms. Garcia said.
“If they do want to be on this initial round in the fall when we have very limited supply targeted at health care workers, then they do need to [register] sooner rather than later,” she said.
Texas traditionally gets about 10% of national vaccine allocations through the Texas Vaccine for Children Program. DSHS assumes the state will receive a similar allocation for the COVID-19 vaccine, Ms. Garcia said.
As part of their enrollment, physicians also should sign up with ImmTrac2, the state’s vaccine registry, Ms. Garcia said.
Typically, only pediatricians and physicians who regularly give vaccines are registered with ImmTrac2. However, state law mandates that vaccines distributed because of natural disasters or public health emergencies must be recorded in the registry, she said.
“That way the public can see how we intend to roll it out at least initially,” she said. “And as vaccines become more available, we’ll be making adjustments as we go.”
Physicians should continue to check DSHS’s page on how to become a COVID-19 vaccinator to keep up with rapidly unfolding developments concerning these vaccines, Ms. Garcia says.
Physicians also can call DSHS’ COVID-19 vaccine provider hotline at (877) 835-7750, from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
“Information continues to evolve, so don’t assume what you heard six weeks ago is still accurate,” Ms. Garcia said.
You can find more tools, resources, and information on TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center, which is continually updated.