Baylor plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Graphic by Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

Many COVID-19 vaccines are being tested to get them to the public quickly. Baylor is hoping to be a vaccine provider, and the Texas Department of State Health Services has released a draft of its plan for the vaccine.

Medical Director Sharon Stern said Baylor has applied to be a vaccine provider. She said when a vaccine or vaccines are approved, they will be released in a tiered format.

“Initially, they will go to healthcare workers on the frontline and those who have serious risk factors, including people who live and work in nursing homes,” Stern said. “The second tier will be similar to the first and will include older adults and people who are being treated with immunosuppressant medications. The third tier is where healthy young college students will come in. So the vaccine has to be produced in sufficient quantities to get to us.”

Dr. Michael Muehlenbein, chair and professor of the department of anthropology and infectious disease epidemiologist, said there are multiple vaccines because of the immediate need.

“Because of efforts such as Operation Warp Speed, a number of companies have been financially enabled and encouraged to develop a vaccine that is effective at a number of different age groups, that is storable at a variety of temperatures and may require one or more doses,” Muehlenbein said. “Vaccines in the past normally have taken a much longer time to develop, but there has rarely been witnessed something that has spread so rapidly and killed so many.”

Muehlenbein said there is currently not enough information to conclude that past infection gives immunity.

“Current infection does not necessarily prevent you from reinfection,” Muehlenbein said. “But that is the billion dollar question right now, because the virus is clearly mutating as it spreads rapidly, so we honestly don’t know the answer, but we are more encouraged now by the initial results of the antibody studies that show potential immunity in individuals for more than three months, but that is still inconclusive.”

There is a concern people will not get vaccinated because of a distrust in science, Muehlenbein said.

“2020 has been weird, but it’s not necessarily completely unique,” Muehlenbein said. “History repeats itself. There has historically been resistance against vaccination, and government control, including efforts to maintain public health.”

Stern said she encourages everyone to get vaccinated because of the tremendous positive change a vaccine can make.

“If you look at the history of smallpox, polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus, you can see the amazing difference a vaccine can make in the number of children who live to adulthood,” Stern said. “I personally have observed the difference that a little vaccine called HiB can make; when I was in medical school and residency, I saw several cases of epiglottitis, mastoiditis and meningitis in children ages 2 to 5 — they were caused by a hemophilus influenza organism. After the vaccine was approved and used widely, we rarely if ever see those infections.”

The Texas DSHS’s plan for the vaccine outlines specifically what groups will be vaccinated first, and how they will work with providers.

“COVID-19 vaccination will be voluntary and left up to the individual to decide if and when to receive the vaccine,” stated in the Texas DSHS’s vaccine plan.

Muehlenbein said he hopes the government will fund the vaccine.

“It’s not just to save lives. It’s to get the economy moving again,” Muehlenbein said. “It’s in everybody’s best interest for this to be a widespread available and free vaccine.”