COVID-19 vaccinations could arrive at Amarillo hospitals as ‘early as next week’

Updated: Dec. 9, 2020 at 12:13 PM CST
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - COVID-19 vaccinations could arrive in Amarillo as early as next week.

Cassie Stoughton, Amarillo public health director, said emergency use operations have been approved and meetings will take place next week for additional approvals.

“We anticipate the first to be vaccinated in our communities will be the hospital staff that are caring for the sickest of patients,” said Stoughton.

Officials at Northwest Texas Hospital System and BSA Health System said front-line healthcare workers will receive priority when it comes to the vaccination.

“Some families have lost multiple members to this virus,” said Brian Weis, chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Hospital. “Something has got to change. Hopefully a change is coming in the form of these vaccines... as early as next week. "

Though the vaccination will be offered to healthcare workers first, Weis said the vaccination is ‘entirely voluntary.’

“I am planning to take the vaccine. Most of our physicians and nurses are (but) some folks will not want to take the vaccine, and they won’t be required to take it,” said Weis.

BSA and NWTHS have experienced higher death rates in the last two months when compared with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital officials said the reason the mortality rate has risen is not clear, as the same treatments being used today were being used months ago.

They hope the coming Pfizer vaccination and antibody infusion treatments will make a difference.

“We see some glimmers of hope with the vaccines and the treatments that are out there,” said Dr. Rodney Gonzales, director of the Amarillo VA.

Though healthcare workers could have access to the vaccine as early as next week, officials don’t expect it to be available to the public until the spring.

In addition to vaccines, officials are working to provide antibody infusions to COVID-19 patients through a tent clinic to be placed between NWTHS and BSA next week.

The tent will be staffed through state resources and provide the infusion treatment, Bamlanivimab, to qualifying COVID-19 patients.

“We have given 32 people this antibody,” said Weis. “People tolerate it very well. These individuals said they started feeling better within 24 to 28 hours.”

Physicians are being asked to refer high-risk patients to the clinic, and patients must meet a strict criteria to receive the infusion.

As of yesterday, Stoughton said there was a total of 26,207 cases of COVID-19 in the community.

Randall County had a total of 12,329 and Potter County had 13,878 unique individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Stoughton said there have been a total of 381 deaths and 18,257 recoveries.

The city of Amarillo currently has 7,776 active cases of COVID-19.

The five-day average is 471 new cases per day, according to Stoughton.

There are currently 154 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at BSA, NWTHS is caring for 111 and the Amarillo VA Health Care System is caring for 16.

Intensive Care Units at both hospitals continue to be taxed by a high number of COVID-19 patients.

“Critical care remains our biggest challenge,” said Weis. “18 critical care patients in our region are waiting to be transferred to a higher level of care.”

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