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Vaccine in Austin could arrive within the next two weeks, health leaders say at town hall

Health leaders discussed how the vaccine will be distributed efficiently and equitably.

AUSTIN, Texas — During a town hall meeting about the coronavirus vaccine in Austin on Thursday, health leaders said the COVID-19 vaccine will most likely be available for some healthcare workers on Dec. 18 or Dec. 19, but there is a chance it could come as early as next week. 

Hosted by the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and the Travis County Medical Society, Austin's top doctor Dr. Mark Escott and Austin Public Health Director Dr. Stephanie Hayden participated in a virtual town hall to discuss how they're preparing for the arrival of the vaccine. They touched on how the coordination between health care systems and providers will work and how it will be distributed efficiently and equitably.

Escott laid out four phases for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in Travis County.

Phase one is expected to have a limited supply of the vaccine, so those who are most vulnerable will get it first. That includes healthcare workers, specifically those working directly with patients in a nursing home or long term care facility, as well as those patients living in those facilities. 

"So if we can avoid the hospitalizations, critical care stays and deaths, we can limit the exposures on the hospital side," said Escott.

Phase two runs from January 2021 until July 2021. The number of doses available increases to 660 million in the U.S. and we will start to see local pharmacies and other distributors get the vaccine. 

"My guest is physicians, and nurses and staff outside of the hospital or emergency setting will look at February or march for availability," said Escott.

In phase three, which starts in July, they predict we will have enough vaccines to go around, and the same for phase four, which starts in October 2021. 

Austin Public Health said they are working on a hotline to answer any questions you may have about the vaccines. 

Escott said there are three vaccines racing to the finish line from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Escott is predicting Pfizer will be the first to be approved.

During the town hall, Escott made it clear that three of these vaccines will require two doses. APH said the vaccine is expected to be free but providers can charge an administrative fee.

This is far from the first talk health leaders have conducted to brainstorm when the vaccine might be available in Austin and who will receive it first.

Health leaders previously told KVUE they believe that by the end of December and beginning of January, the first vaccine doses will arrive in Austin.

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"We're understanding that it is first responders, health care, administration people that work in the health care field," Hayden said.

Long-term care residents and higher-risk people are also under consideration.
But exactly who qualifies as high risk – and if you will have to somehow sign up to get the vaccine – is still being decided.

KVUE spoke with Dr. Mark McClellan, the director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and a chief medical advisor on Gov. Greg Abbott's strike force, about what distribution will look like in Texas, and if he thinks there should be more restrictions as case numbers rise. 

WATCH: Texas prepares for COVID-19 vaccine

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