COVID-19 vaccines will require special handling and shipping

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Although there are several COVID-19 vaccine trials in its final stages, medical experts said they don't anticipate a vaccine becoming available for the general public until the end of this year. But the CDC is telling states to be ready for a possible vaccine by Nov. 1.

"Going well. We have a lot of interest," said Dr. Robert Atmar with Baylor College of Medicine.

The infectious disease specialist is helping oversee the Moderna trial for a COVID-19 vaccine.

"They get it as a shot in the arm, much like they would a flu shot," explained Atmar. "They have a 50/50 chance of getting a vaccine or the placebo."

He said the two-dose trial is the last step before making a decision if the vaccine is ready for the general public, which he doesn't expect will happen until the end of 2020.

But the State of Texas is moving forward with a request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin giving permits and licensing to pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corporation.

The CDC sent a letter to governors across the US stating that McKesson would oversee the mass distribution of millions of COVID-19 vaccines, and will need to have all necessary local licensing approved.

The Texas Department of State Health Services told Eyewitness News that they anticipate meeting the Nov. 1 deadline for licensing and permits for vaccine distribution.

Atmar said this is the first step in a long process to roll out a new vaccine, and he does not see it as an effort to rush a vaccine.

"The two vaccines that are the lead candidates are mRNA vaccines, and they have special handling requirements. The Moderna vaccine and the vaccine made by Pfizer. There are very particular cold chain issues that need to be addressed," Atmar said.

He added that everything from the type of packaging, to shipping and even refrigeration are particular and different from how we distribute other common vaccines.

On Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner weighed in on the message for a vaccine coming by Nov. 1.

"I think it's a very hopeful message. We'll see whether or not it should happen, but the preparations need to be made right now. Whether the vaccine is available in November or December or January, you put the infrastructure in place right now," Turner said.

The Moderna trial already has more than 17,000 participants enrolled from across the country, with a goal of 30,000.

The Baylor College of Medicine location can take up to 250 participants and is still enrolling.

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