UTMB's COVID-19 trial has been using Pfizer's effective vaccine for months

Hundreds of participants from the Houston and Galveston area have already been receiving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine through UTMB's clinical vaccine trial, which began in July.

Early data released from Pfizer’s clinical trial Monday, suggests its vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing the Coronavirus, which has killed more than a million people across the world. 

DETAILS: Pfizer says early data signals COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective

The long-awaited development is promising, but now raises the question of how and when will distribution begin? 

Dr. Janak Patel is an infectious disease expert with UTMB and the co-chair of the hospital system’s COVID-19 Vaccine Preparedness Task Force. 

For the last month, the task force has been vigorously planning every detail of how UTMB would distribute the vaccine.  

Local doctor joining COVID-19 vaccine trials

Dr. Kirk Koepsel is a podiatrist with a background in bacteriology virology parasitology and epidemiology, but he’s switching to the other side of the needle and enrolling in one late-stage trial to help find a fix.

"There are a lot of unknowns about this vaccine rollout. The most important challenge for the Pfizer vaccine, if that’s the first one that comes along, is the storage requirement at a very low temperature. It requires ultra-low temperature freezers, reaching a temperature of minus 80 centigrade or lower.

"UTMB has planned to have three sites. One in Galveston, one in Clear Lake, which is in Harris County, and one in Angleton, which is in Brazoria county. And in each of these locations, we will have our hospital and the pharmacy within these hospitals will act as a receiving center for the vaccination," Dr. Patel said. 

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According to federal and state guidance, the vaccine would be distributed in three phases, prioritizing first access to those with the highest risk level. 

Phase 1 would include all health care workers and support staff. Phase 2 expands to vulnerable populations like nursing homes. Lastly, Phase 3 would include the general population. 
However, in terms of which facilities would receive the first batches from Pfizer, Dr Patel said that remains unclear. 

"Interestingly, the Pfizer vaccine was not a part of the Operation Warped Speed from the White House task force. So, it is not a government-funded program. Therefore, the company is free to distribute it whichever way it sees fit," Dr. Patel said.

Pfizer plans on asking the FDA for emergency authorization as soon as next week. 

"We are hoping that health care workers will line up first. We have to be the example of the community. I will be the first one to get the vaccine," Dr. Patel said.