• November 27, 2020

Vaccine distribution not entirely clear - Odessa American: Local News

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Vaccine distribution not entirely clear

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Posted: Saturday, November 21, 2020 12:15 pm

Despite promises by federal and state government leaders that vaccines and medication to treat COVID-19 are on their way, health officials in Ector County warn it could be at least one to two more months before the treatments are available to the public.

One vaccine is still awaiting final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and most local healthcare-related facilities lack freezer units large and powerful enough to store the vaccines, said Ector County Judge Debi Hays. Questions also remain about how and when communities will receive the vaccines and medicine.

“Everyone is very optimistic and ready to go,” Hays said. “But, as far as I know, Medical Center Hospital and the county Health Department are the only ones who already have the sub-zero freezers needed.

“It’s going to require additional costs to make sure other hospitals, healthcare facilities and pharmacies have freezers so that they can help distribute the vaccines.”

MCH CEO Russell Tippin said local health officials do know that the vaccines will be distributed in stages. The first round of vaccines will be given to frontline medical staff such as doctors and nurses. The second round will go to the most vulnerable – the elderly, people living in nursing homes and educators.

“In terms of numbers in Ector County, that’s a lot of people,” Hays said. “It’s going to take time for everyone to get the vaccines.”

In order to provide the vaccinations to as many people as quickly as possible, health officials will be counting on the help of local pharmacies, Hays and Tippin said.

Pharmacist Brian Meyer, the owner of Odessa’s Sunflower RX, recently submitted his paperwork so that he will be able to provide the vaccine to the public. But he too says details still need to be worked out.

“We just submitted our application to be a place where people can go to get the vaccination,” Meyer said. “But most pharmacies, including chains like Walgreens and CVS, don’t have the large refrigeration units that will be needed.

“I’m not sure if the government is going to lease freezers to us, help us buy them, or how it’s going to work. We’re all waiting to learn more about how this will work.”

Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced that Texas is ready to “swiftly distribute medicines and vaccinations,” to treat COVID-19; a similar vow made by other state governors. But that news was announced with little detail.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized the immediate use of the first medical treatment developed for people who contract COVID-19. An antibody drug by Eli Lilly & Co., called bamlanivimab, has been shown to improve the symptoms of people who contract the virus and prevent hospitalizations, according to a press release issued by the governor’s office.

The FDA said the drug is authorized for patients at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, including people 65 and older, or who have certain preexisting medical conditions. Lilly is expected to immediately ship approximately 80,000 doses across the country, including Texas, at no cost to the states.

Lilly should have up to one million doses by the end of the year. Similar to the Lilly antibody treatment, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. also has requested FDA emergency use authorization of its own COVID-19 antibody medical treatment to treat patients before they become seriously ill and aid in reducing hospitalizations.

According to Abbott’s press release, the federal government has agreed to buy hundreds of thousands of doses of the two new treatment drugs and will be in charge of allocating supplies to the states, which will in turn determine distribution to hospitals and healthcare facilities. It is likely that the doses will be allocated to states and U.S. territories based on their share of hospitalized and infected patients.

Meyer said the current plan is for healthcare facilities like MCH and Odessa Regional Medical Center, to receive the first shipments of the COVID medication and vaccinations.

Sunflower and other pharmacies will be the second group to receive the supplies. Sunflower is one of more than 5,000 independently-owned pharmacies across the country that is overseen by the national chain known as Health Mart Pharmacy.

The federal government has contracted with Health Mart Pharmacy to organize the medical distribution to pharmacies, Meyer said.

“That’s how I learned about it,” Meyer said. “Even though we’re a small pharmacy we want to help get the vaccines to the public. We want to be a healthcare provider that offers services, instead of just counting pills.”

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf said although distribution has not yet started the announcement is cause to celebrate.

“It has been a breath of fresh air to learn about the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” Landgraf said. “The fact that we are seriously talking about distributing a vaccine nationwide less than a year after the first documented COVID case is a testament to the ingenuity and will-power of the American people.”

Odessa, TX

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