The University is preparing to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers, following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Texas.
Amy Young, chief clinical officer for UT Health Austin, said in a Tuesday press conference the vaccine is recommended for health care providers since they work in a place of significant exposure, but it is still voluntary. The vaccine will also be voluntary for students, faculty and staff.
Terrance Hines, executive director and chief medical officer for University Health Services, said the vaccines will be administered at no cost to the individual. Hines said the vaccine is one of the ways officials hope to protect the UT community.
“We certainly respect that this is a personal decision and one that everyone is very concerned about,” Hines said. “We encourage people to make that informed decision for themselves, but our hope is that as many eligible people get the vaccine as possible.”
Jonathan Robb, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, said in the conference that once health care workers are vaccinated, other populations will be vaccinated in accordance with state and federal guidance.
“We have under 3,000 doses that will come to us,” Robb said. “Based on the state and federal guidelines, all of them will be going towards health care workers.”
It is unclear when the University will receive the vaccines, Robb said. Medical and nursing students could receive the vaccine early if they meet the state and federal criteria for health care workers based on their job functions, Robb said.
Robb said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is likely to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization first, and the University will likely receive it before the Moderna vaccine.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, and the University has identified several locations across campus to store the vaccine. This vaccine also requires two injections to be given 21 days apart, according to the New York Times. Robb said the cost to the University is still being evaluated.
Young said the University will follow the state and federal guidelines to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.
Hines said the number of people required to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity in the UT community is unclear.
“Right now, our real focus is to get as many members of our community vaccinated as possible to complete the two-shot series,” Hines said. “Even once they get vaccinated, it's critically important that we all can continue to do the social distancing, the masks, until we get to that level of immunity within our community for it to be effective.”