After surviving what's been a truly hellacious year, Dallas residents could use a bit of good news. Distribution of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine will begin soon, a prospect that’s filling the region’s public health specialists with hope.
In a virtual town hall Thursday hosted by Dallas U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, two of North Texas’ top medical experts told constituents about the current state of COVID-19 affairs. Texas will likely begin offering the Pfizer vaccine to health care employees, frontline workers and vulnerable populations now that a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has recommended its use.
“This is about as clean a vaccine as I’ve seen in my career,” said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of the division of infectious diseases at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “It really looks good.”
Pfizer’s vaccine is around 95% effective, Perl added, which is about as successful as the measles shot.
“I’m very, very excited that this vaccine could really prevent disease in people who are at risk,” she said.
As of Thursday, 1,299 Dallas County residents have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the county’s health department. Although news of the vaccine is inspiring hope among health workers, some Texans remain hesitant to take it.
The Pfizer vaccine’s impending arrival is “encouraging,” Allred said, and soon it will be available for all Texans. Until then, people should continue to practice proven prevention methods: washing their hands, wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing.
“We should all do our part, not just for ourselves and for our families, but for our frontline health care workers who are pushed to the limits of their endurance trying to save lives,” he said.
Allred said he's hopeful that Congress will pass a $900 billion stimulus package to deliver economic relief to businesses and families. He said he’s supportive of the plan’s framework and hopes it will become law next week.
Even though it’s a “safe technology,” Perl said those who receive the Pfizer vaccine might experience some mild side effects. They could have sore arms, a fever and feel bad for a couple of days, but taking Tylenol or ibuprofen should help ameliorate those symptoms.
The highly effective Moderna vaccine will also soon be ready, but it could take a while before the country hits herd immunity, when enough of the population achieves immunity to interrupt the spread in infections, Perl said.
Both Pfizer and Moderna will require two doses, although people should be sure to stick to one brand or the other, said Dr. Vivian Johnson, Parkland Health & Hospital System’s senior vice president of clinical services. Pfizer recipients will need to come back 21 days after their first dose. (It’s OK if they can’t make that exact date so long as they return between 19 and 23 days later.)
Recipients will receive a card to keep track of their vaccine timeline, Johnson said.
Pfizer’s vaccine is giving health care experts hope they will soon be able to reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths, Johnson said. One of her own family members died from complications of the disease, making news of the drug all the more personal.
“I’m definitely going to be taking the vaccine, and I would like you to take advantage of all the information there is about it,” she said.
Distribution may be somewhat tricky because of the way the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in ultra-cold freezers, Johnson said. Someday, though, the arrival of one-dose vaccines could allow for easier distribution, such as through mobile clinics.
North Texans have been doing a “tremendous” job staying in the COVID-19 fight so far, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins; they just need to stick with it a little bit longer. He recommends finding something to laugh about every day and practicing "intentional thankfulness.”
When the floor opened for constituent questions, Beckett Potter, a third-grader at Greenhill School in Addison, asked whether there will be a safe vaccine for kids.
Not yet, Perl replied, but health experts will soon begin studying its effects in children.
“We agree with you: You’re an important group to get vaccinated,” she said. “We want to practice in the adults before we practice in you guys.”