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'A light at the end of the tunnel' | Houston-area healthcare workers get their COVID-19 vaccines

Hundreds of healthcare workers in the Texas Medical Center and beyond are expecting to get their first doses of the vaccine this week.

HOUSTON — Houston-area healthcare workers received the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday in a turning point towards defeating the virus.

Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann, Texas Children's, Baylor St. Luke's, MD. Anderson Cancer Center, UTMB, and others administered the first of two doses to hundreds of their staff.

“It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up today, I was like, ‘wow, today is vaccine day,'" said Ashley Drews, M.D., Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control for Houston Methodist. “(This is) the first thing that we have control over that we can really do to try to put an end to this pandemic.”

In this first shipment, Houston Methodist received 5,850 doses of the vaccine. Memorial Hermann expects to receive 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first allotment, more than any other health system in the Greater Houston area. Over the next 48 hours, more than 600 frontline health care workers at MD Anderson will receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Texas Children’s in the Texas Medical Center is set to administer 3,900 doses over the coming days, with the capability of immunizing up to 96 team members an hour.

“It’s really important that these healthcare workers are able to be vaccinated so we can maintain the staffing levels that we need so we can provide care for all the patients that have come in in the last few weeks during this ongoing surge right now," said Dr. Michael Chang, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

Widespread vaccines for the general public may take until spring. For now, doctors keep urging diligent healthy habits: wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands frequently, and staying home when possible.

“Just because we think that we’re going to turn the corner doesn’t mean it already happened," Dr. Chang said. “If we can just hang on for a few more months – I know it’s easy to say, difficult to do.”

The FDA is likely to consider approving a second vaccine, made by Moderna, for emergency use later this week, which could potentially double the ability to inoculate people against COVID-19, which has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States, and more than 24,000 Texans.

“We can potentially move to the public getting the vaccine sooner than we were anticipating," Dr. Chang said.

While some people are skeptical of the vaccine, partially because of how quickly it was made, tested, and approved, healthcare workers lined up in droves to get a shot in the arm: the boost they needed after an arduous 2020, nine months, almost to the day, since the pandemic started taking hold in Texas.

“We can’t wait for years. If you have been working here and seeing these patients, you would be first in line to get this," Dr. Drews said. "After all this has been going on, this nightmare, that really maybe there is something, an end to this, a light at the end of the tunnel.”