While the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to arrive at North Texas hospitals as early as next week, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley is urging the public to continue their vigilance and be mindful of coronavirus safety guidelines.
“Until we get some of the folks vaccinated and we can get ahead of this, it’s going to be very difficult to get back to any kind of normalcy,” Judge Whitley told NBC 5 Thursday. “At the same time, what I’ll say is we can’t relax. We can’t all of a sudden say, okay we can let loose. We can forget the mask. We’ve got to stay very focused on wearing the mask, social distancing, washing the hands – doing all things we’ve been stressing over the last couple of months.”
On Thursday, the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization after hours of discussion. Eight hospitals in Tarrant County are expected to receive doses of the vaccine next week, Whitley said.
“It’s my understanding that kind of the priority right now is the people who are administering the vaccines, the healthcare workers,” he said. “We hope the governor will consider putting educators in that group. We really believe that if we’re going to put the kids back in the schools, we’ve got to make sure these teachers are safe and will be there to teach them.”
Tarrant County public health officials reported 1,215 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. According to the county dashboard, 21% of hospital beds in the county are occupied by COVID-19 patients. A public information officer for Tarrant County Public Health said as of Thursday, 13 ICU beds remain empty in the county.
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Dr. Jerry Simecka, Associate Dean of Research at UNTHSC’s College of Pharmacy, described Thursday’s discussion with the FDA panel as a ‘huge milestone’ during the pandemic.
“This is obviously an emergency use authorization. Typically, you won’t see that with many vaccines but because of the situation, they’re trying to fast track this. At least get a vaccine to the highest risk individuals,” Dr. Simecka said. “They’ve pointed out some of the weaknesses as well as the strengths.”
Widespread and mass distribution would likely take place mid-spring, Simecka added.
“An interesting thing that’s going to be a wrinkle here is that we have multiple vaccines coming online,” he said. “Pfizer vaccine will require lots of very cold refrigeration, so it’s going to be harder to get out to the rural areas. Not impossible, just going to be harder whereas the Moderna doesn’t require that ultra cold.”
Still, Simecka said there will be unknowns.
“I think for a very long time, even after the vaccines are readily available, we’re going to have to be very cautious and potentially be wearing masks beyond the vaccines because we don’t know, for example, how long the vaccines will work,” he said.
The FDA is also expected to pass judgment on the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, which has proved about as protective as Pfizer's.
Vaccine candidates by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are also in the pipeline.