Austin Medics Receive Coronavirus Vaccine

Tony Cantu

AUSTIN, TX — Austin-area paramedics and emergency medical technicians have received vaccines for the coronavirus ahead of schedule, officials said on Saturday.

The first round of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Austin-Travis County through direct shipments to area healthcare facilities this week. As part of the 1A vaccine distribution group as designated by the Texas Department of State Health Services, officials said, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services expected shipments of vaccinations for their front line EMTs and Paramedics to arrive in late December, with the goal of rolling out the vaccine to their personnel before the year’s end.

Thanks to the University of Texas at Austin, officials said, some area paramedics and EMTs will receive their vaccines even sooner than expected.

The COVID-19 vaccination operation currently underway at UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of the University of Texas at Austin, is part of a broad collaboration across UT-Austin that also includes the School of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, University Health Services and the Office of Campus Safety. The UT Austin team is also collaborating with Austin Public Health, the City of Austin, Travis County, and the State of Texas.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s been clear that it would take a broad coalition across Central Texas working together to defeat COVID-19,” said Amy Young, M.D., UT Health Austin Chief Clinical Officer and Vice Dean of Professional Practice at Dell Med. “We are continuing to work in partnership with Austin Public Health, along with Austin-Travis County EMS and the Austin Fire Department, to support our community’s health care personnel and our critical health infrastructure.”

Among the first in the state, EMTs and Paramedics with Austin-Travis County EMS, the Austin Fire Department and various Travis County Fire departments, began receiving their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday, with many more expected to receive them throughout the weekend and into next week, according to officials.

“We’re lucky to have such a close working relationship with our hospital partners. To be invited to get vaccinations earlier than expected was an opportunity we could not (and would not) pass up,” said Ernesto Rodriguez, Chief of Austin-Travis County EMS. “It really is a blessing to have such a good partnership, and work together to ensure the safety of all the healthcare workers in our area. Getting the vaccines ahead of our expected timeline means that our hardworking EMTs and Paramedics will be able to safely care for Austin-Travis County residents all the sooner.”

Over the course of the pandemic, officials said, Austin-Travis County EMS has implemented multiple strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Among those measures is the COVID Clinical Consult Line, a supplement to the emergency call triage system, which employs communications medics with special training, according to an advisory. This line is meant to help 911 callers that may be experiencing COVID symptoms reach the right resources for their condition, officials added.

Helping to champion these efforts — and following the first group of medics who received their vaccination today — was Dr. Mark Escott, Medical Director for Austin-Travis County EMS and the county's interim public health authority.

“In an emergency, the men and women of ATCEMS, AFD and our other Travis County Fire Departments are for many residents, the very first healthcare providers they see. Our medics wind up being their patient’s introduction into the healthcare system,” Escott said in a prepared statement. “With COVID cases on the rise, it is critically important that our clinicians get vaccinated as early as possible, to protect themselves and thereby protecting their patients from COVID-19.”

Vaccinations for Austin’s first responders will continue over the weekend and into next week, officials said. One by one, officials added, they will build their defense against the deadly virus that has been spreading uncontrollably across the country for the better part of a year.

"I am so thankful that we can begin to protect those who have been working tirelessly in our community to provide life-saving medical treatment," Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said. "I look forward to getting this vaccine out to the rest of our first responders in the coming weeks and the community as a whole in the months ahead."

COVID-19 Vaccine Week 2 Allocations

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced their week 2 vaccine allocations on Friday, which can be viewed weekly on the DSHS COVID-19 Vaccine page. The Austin area will receive 2,925 additional batches of the Pfizer vaccine and is expected to receive 15,400 batches of the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is shipped in batches of 975, and the Moderna vaccine expected to be delivered next week will be shipped in batches of 100, allowing smaller providers the ability to begin distributing the vaccine.

At this time, state health officials have informed Austin Public Health they are still only distributing vaccine to individuals who fit the descriptions of Group 1A of their allocation guiding principles. Officials said the state may soon designate that the vaccine can be distributed to Group 1B. City of Austin and Travis County staff in those groups have already been notified of the expected timeline of vaccine distribution to them, officials said, and have been notified the vaccine may be made available to them earlier than expected.

Also in Groups 1A and 1B are individuals who work or live in long-term care facilities, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working directly with pharmacies on a vaccine plan for these facilities, according to Austin-Travis County EMS. As the vaccine distribution ramps up in the coming weeks and months, officials added, Austin Public Health will continue to serve as an informational hub. While Austin Public Health clinics are registered as a vaccine provider through the Department of State Health Services, officials added, they will not serve as the distributor of vaccines to providers in the community.

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch