What the COVID-19 Vaccine Means for Texas EMS

The FDA approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week and Texas expects its first shipment around December 14th. Within days, Texas EMS professionals will be receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.

Here are ten things to know about Texas EMS and the COVID-19 vaccine.

  1. Texas EMS Is Prioritized

Texas is receiving 1.4 million COVID-19 vaccines during the month of December. The Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) placed Texas EMS in the First Tier of vaccine recipients.

2. The Vaccine Will Be Distributed In Four Phases

The vaccine is expected to be distributed in four different phases.

Phase 1: December 2020-January 2021 (limited vaccine supply)
Phase 2: February 2021-July 2021(increased vaccine supply)
Phase 3: July 2021-October 2021 (sufficient vaccine supply)
Phase 4: October 2021-Forward (most of population is vaccinated)

The focus of Phase 1 is vaccinating priority recipients while managing limited dosages of the vaccine. Phase 2 will focus on vaccinating the remainder of the prioritized recipients and expanding further into the population.

Phase 3 is the first time a sufficient number of vaccines will be available for the entire population. Phase 4 represents a time when the majority of the population is vaccinated and the vaccine may be available at private providers.

3. EMS Is Prioritized In Two Different Tiers of Phase 1

The EVAP divided EMS into two different tiers for Phase 1 distribution.

EMS providers engaging in 911 emergency services are ranked in the first tier of vaccine recipients. EMS providers conducting non-911 transportation are ranked in the second tier of vaccine recipients.

Both tiers belong to Phase 1. The goal is to have all members of Phase 1 vaccinated as soon as the vaccine supply allows. This may take several months to accomplish (December 2020-July 2021).

4. The Vaccine Is Not Mandatory

Governor Abbott has clearly stated that the State of Texas will not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory.

The likelihood of employers mandating the COVID-19 vaccine during Phases 1 and 2 is also low due to a limited vaccine supply. The goal should be prioritizing consenting EMS professionals and providing evidence based research to those desiring more information.

5. The Vaccine Will Require Two Separate Shots

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two IM injections at 21 and 28 days apart, respectively. A person is not consider vaccinated until the second dose.

All vaccine recipients will have their information placed into the Texas Immunization Registry (ImmTrac2) to ensure proper tracking and administration of the second dose.

Recipients can also download the CDC app VSafe in order to personally track their immunization needs.

6. The Vaccine Is Considered 95% Effective

Approximately 95% of vaccine recipients did not contract COVID-19 with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. This efficacy comes from a combined sample size of 74,000 participants.

The efficacy of the vaccine is only measured after the second dose. EMS professionals receiving the first dose in December will not be considered effectively vaccinated until after the second dose in late January.

7. Neither Vaccine Reported Serious Side Effects

Neither Pfizer or Moderna reported serious short term side effects during their vaccine trials.

Fatigue, myalgia, athralgia, headache, pain, and redness at the injection site were reported by Moderna. EMS colleagues participating in the vaccine trials reported flu like symptoms the following day.

A peer reviewed publication of the studies is not expected until the end of 1Q 2021.

8. Appropriate PPE Is Still Expected Following Vaccination

EMS professionals receiving the vaccine are still expected to wear appropriate PPE on calls. This is subject to local discretion.

The vaccine is ineffective in 5% of participants and EMS professionals may experience a higher viral load than the average study participant. The vaccine is best viewed as an additional layer of protection as opposed to a shield of immunity.

This is open to change as greater vaccine distribution becomes available to the public and additional data is collected. Texas is expected to keep its mask mandate through Phase 3 until public data shows benefit in removing it.

Governor Abbott states the COVID-19 vaccine will always be voluntary.

9. Previously Having COVID-19 Does Not Remove Access To The Vaccine

People who have recovered from COVID-19 are still considered eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

There is not enough available data to determine how long antibodies last in the body. There is also speculation that the severity of symptoms may be related to a person’s level of immunity.

Due to the unknowns, the COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for all consenting EMS professionals. There is also potential for a booster shot in October due to unknown data on the lifespan of antibodies following vaccination.

10. Distribution Will Occur On The Local Level

Vaccines will be sent to 109 Texas Hospitals and distributed from these locations. Regional and local authorities will determine how these vaccines are distributed to the different Tier 1 recipients.

All EMS agencies should be providing a vaccination plan and vaccine information to employees within the next week.

The COVID-19 vaccine brings EMS into a new operating environment this month. EMS professionals will be among the first recipients of the vaccine and leading the way for the rest of the population.

ATEMSP is active in statewide conversations regarding the COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution. To better understand the COVID-19 vaccine and its statewide distribution, visit the Texas DSHS COVID-19 Vaccine Information page.

The Association of Texas EMS Professionals (ATEMSP) represents the individual Texas EMS professional. ATEMSP is active in state and federal public policy.