There is no doubt that a COVID-19 vaccine is on many people’s wish lists. And there has never been such a concentrated application of the world’s resources devoted to developing a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government has told states to begin preparing for a vaccine and have their plans ready by Nov. 1.
Despite what you might hear in the media or from candidates, I don’t expect a vaccine to be available for widespread use until likely the summer of 2021. The leading candidates for a safe and effective vaccine still have a number of hurdles to clear and much of that cannot be rushed. Shortcutting the process— which has already been compressed dramatically— will risk creating questions regarding the vaccine’s safety and increase what already appears to be substantial concern and lack of trust on the part of the public.
The federal government will handle most of the logistics involving a vaccine – including which healthcare systems receive the approved vaccine and at what quantities. But while there are still many unknowns, Texas Health is planning for receiving, storing and administering the vaccines.
“Based on what we know today, we are ready,” said Shaun Clinton, senior vice president of Supply Chain Management for Texas Health.
Here is what we are doing to prepare:
- Hospitals and clinics must be registered with the Department of State Health Services to obtain vaccines when available. Texas Health facilities are being registered through a system level process.
- We’ve obtained medical freezers that can reach the sub-zero temperatures required to store the vaccine. We will keep the freezers at a central location, from which we will distribute the vaccine systemwide.
- We’ve firmed up supplies that might be needed to transport vaccines within our system.
- Though the government has indicated that items like needles and syringes will be included with any shipments of the vaccine, we are shoring up our supplies as a precaution.
- Our clinical operations and Human Resources teams are working together to determine clinical priorities and logistics to successfully deploy immunizations once they are available.
The Texas Hospital Association is working with state leadership on behalf of hospitals and long-term care facilities to determine plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which will occur in phases based on vaccine availability and priority populations.
And while we make these plans, we also recognize that there are many Americans who fear safety shortcuts are being taken in the race for a vaccine and are unsure if they’ll take the vaccine once it’s available. A new poll by Gallup is showing sharp declines in Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated. Just 50% of respondents expressed a willingness to get a Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 vaccine, which is down 11 percentage points since August and 16 points since July.
Until we know more about the vaccine safety as well as effectiveness, Texas Heath will not require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. Nor do we plan to change our personal protective equipment protocols for patients, visitors, employers or physicians once a vaccine is available.
Though we await more information, Texas Health has done what we can to prepare and will quickly adapt our plans as changes are needed.