'Time to get started:' Houston healthcare workers gear up for vaccine

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston healthcare workers and long-term care facilities are waiting for the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine.

Vaccination processes are set to start this coming week, with Houston expecting its shipment on Monday.

Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development said this historical moment has been 17 years in the making, as coronavirus vaccine research has been ongoing since the SARS outbreak in 2003.

"It's really the culmination of a decade, arguably 17 years of work," Hotez said. "I think that messaging is important because people have the impression that somehow these vaccines just popped out of nowhere."

He is on the list to get one of the first rounds of vaccinations.

Sunday morning, the first batch of vaccines were loaded onto trucks at a Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan, and shipped out across the country.

SEE ALSO: Why all eyes will be on COVID-19 vaccine rollout this week

Freight trucks carrying about 184,275 vials of vaccine departed the plant, and the combined 189 boxes of vaccine vials are expected to arrive in all 50 states by Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield has accepted an advisory committee's recommendation that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be given to people ages 16 and older, Sunday morning. This means that shots of the vaccine can now be administered to the public in the United States.

Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist with UT Health and Memorial Hermann, said he was involved in a vaccine trial and is waiting for the go-ahead to sign up for the first batch of Pfizer vaccinations.

"This is one of the most important tools we have now to stop the outbreak," Ostrosky said. "It is completely logical and appropriate to start vaccinating the people on the frontlines that are taking care of the actual COVID-19 patients. We are very excited about this. Most people in the medical center are very excited. They can't get on a list fast enough."

Ostrosky said the vaccine prevents symptomatic COVID-19 and severe cases, but it could take until the summer before there is enough of the population vaccinated.

"This is by no means a magic bullet," Dr. Ostrosky said. "We're going to have to vaccinate and we're going to have to continue wearing masks, social distancing, and staying home and washing your hands for a while until enough people have gotten the vaccine where we reach the level of herd immunity that we need to not have transmission in the community. Very exciting development and time to get started."

Sources anticipate the first shipment in Houston could arrive on Monday.

"We're expecting to start vaccinating this week," Dr. Ostrosky said. "Healthcare workers we're starting to schedule people, so very exciting times."

The Texas Department of Public Health released the list, showing that 21 Harris county hospital will be getting the first doses, including Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital with almost 2,000 doses. Memorial Hermann Cypress Hospital Cypress with about 1,000 doses. The Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center is expected to receive one of the largest shipments with nearly 6,000 doses.

SEE ALSO: List of Texas hospitals getting COVID-19 vaccine on Monday and Tuesday

According to the CDC's data tracker 272,196 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19, including 909 who have died. Since the death status was not available for all that were surveyed, health professionals estimate the death toll to be much higher.

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