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How would a COVID-19 vaccine be distributed? Austin health officials test 'drive-thru exercise' with flu vaccine

APH held a drive-thru distribution of the flu vaccine in order to see how they can learn to efficiently distribute a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

AUSTIN, Texas — In the Nov. 9 Austin Public Health COVID-19 Q&A, health officials said they performed a drive-thru distribution of the flu vaccine in preparation for a potential COVID-19 vaccine, if and when one is approved and distributed to Texans.

Positive news came Monday morning when Pfizer announced that early results from its COVID-19 vaccine study suggest the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.  

Naturally, many questions in the Q&A surrounded the potential distribution timeline of a COVID-19 vaccine and how it would be distributed. 

Austin Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott was a bit cautious about the Pfizer announcement but remained optimistic. 

"First, let me say that while the news from Pfizer is encouraging, we have to be very careful about determining efficacy while the studies are still underway," Dr. Escott said. "Now, I'm certainly hopeful that the eventual efficacy will be greater than 50%. But, I would hesitate to think that it would be as much as 90%, but we could get lucky." 

As far as a timeline is concerned, Dr. Escott said he hoped that enrollment for the trial would be done by the end of November or early December and added that the results would need to be peer-reviewed by health officials. He said he believes a vaccine won't be readily available until 2021. 

APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said APH had been working on distribution protocols in anticipation of a coronavirus vaccine. Pichette said that APH held a drive-thru distribution of the flu vaccine in order to see how they can learn to efficiently distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.

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"We're trying to get ourselves as ready as we can in anticipation of receiving that vaccine and deploying it as effectively as possible," Pichette said. "As an example, we had a flu vaccine drive-thru point of dispensing (POD) on Saturday where we vaccinated over 400 people. And the purpose of that drive-thru pointed dispensing was to see if it would be a suitable model to use. And we felt like it was very effective. There were definitely lessons learned from that drive-thru exercise, but we continue to practice and refine so that when we do have the opportunity to deliver [a] vaccine to the community, we can do this [as] timely and efficiently as possible."

APH Director Stephanie Hayden also said they issued a smaller scale vaccine distributing exercise weeks ago in the City's recreation testing sites.

"We have established a vaccine distribution coalition that meets a couple of times a month," Hayden said. "And so with input from the coalition, as well as working with the State in alignment with the information that's coming from the Centers for Disease Control, we feel like we are going to be ready to distribute the vaccine when it is available."

Pichette said an example of one of the lessons learned was that children were not very cooperative when receiving the drive-thru flu vaccine, so often parents would have to get out of the car to help. Pichette said they would establish a lane specifically for cars that have children on board to address that need. 

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"While we had the Expo and have used the Expo in the past, some of the lessons learned could be the challenge of vaccinating children in a drive-thru setting because they're not very cooperative. The parent tends to have to get out of the car. So, we had a separate lane set up for children or families that were driving through that had children under the age of 10 years old. And so, I think we need to refine that process a little more," Pichette said. "Again, we used the Travis County Expo Center where you can drive through and you're out of the elements, so to speak, but it may not be a suitable location. We need to consider looking at other alternative options where we can post somewhere that has a huge parking lot that we can have folks come in through and exit safely."

Hayden agreed with Pichette and said APH needs to look at multiple locations.

"So, we need to look at multiple locations across the city, whether it's southeast, central, etc. We're definitely looking in ZIP codes where we may be potentially providing testing right now and transitioning those locations to provide the vaccine in lieu of testing," Hayden said.

Another issue that came up was a man's car overheated. 

"So, making sure that you are prepared and have a process in place in the event that an individual's car overheats or it just doesn't start. Our partners were there ... they were able to help that individual with his vehicle. But just being prepared for the uneventful things that may cause a delay and may cause individuals to have to be there longer because of car trouble or something like that," Hayden said

WATCH: Texas preparing for possible COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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