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(UT Health Austin)

Nursing students administered the first COVID-19 vaccines in Austin on Tuesday morning at UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School.

UT Health Austin received 2,925 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and immediately placed them in subzero temperature storage. It was one of only four sites across the state, and the only one in Central Texas, to gain such early access.

These initial doses, which are the first of the two-part vaccine, are earmarked for front-line health care workers, including faculty members, staff and students who are involved in treating Austin patients, in accordance to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The facility expects to administer around 300 doses of the vaccine on Tuesday. One of them will go to Lexie Wille, who works at a local clinic providing therapy.

Wille received an email last week from her supervisor saying that she qualified for early vaccine access.

"I was just super excited," she told Austonia. "I didn't have any concerns. It was a big sense of relief, actually."

Throughout the pandemic, Wille has seen patients virtually. Once she receives the second dose of the vaccine, in about three weeks, she will return to her workplace.

"The main thing that I feel is excited at the possibility of being able to see more patients," she said, adding that many of her patients right now are either new to therapy or experiencing more severe symptoms than they were pre-pandemic.

Erin Morpeth, a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin who works with the psychiatry team at Dell Seton Medical Center, is also slated to receive one of UT Health's initial doses. Her appointment is scheduled for Friday.

"Right now, when I go in, I usually wear two masks at least," she said. "They have hand sanitizer at every single corner of the hospital. So (I'm) using that constantly."

Morpeth expects getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will help her feel more ease while at work.

"There's excitement. There's anxiety. There's some feeling of, 'Should I actually deserve to get this vaccine?'" she said.

Amy Young, chief clinical officer at UT Health Austin and vice dean of professional practice at Dell Medical School, said the vaccine "finally" allows for hope of a post-pandemic future.

"This has been a long haul for everyone, but especially for the health care providers who have been putting their own lives at risk in taking care of COVID-19 patients on the front lines," she said in a statement Monday.

Ten other facilities in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties will receive vaccine shipments later this week as part of the state's initial allotment, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In addition to front-line healthcare workers and EMS first responders, nursing home residents and staff are also considered top priority vaccine recipients. Most long-term care facilities across the state will receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine starting on Dec. 28 through a federal program separate from the initial allotment happening this week.

It will likely take many months before the vaccine is widely available to the general public, and local health officials have stressed that Austinites will need to maintain protective measures—such as masking, social distancing and hand washing—until herd immunity if achieved through mass vaccination.

However, Pfizer may soon be joined by other pharmaceutical companies in distributing a vaccine.

The FDA will meet with its advisory panel on Thursday to review Moderna's application for an emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, which works similarly to Pfizer's and has also posted promising results from its clinical trials.

If Moderna's vaccine is approved, as expected, as many as 20 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of the month, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday.


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