Calling the Shots

H-E-B to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Houston stores

H-E-B plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines once they're available. Photo courtesy of BCM

As a pair of COVID-19 vaccines await emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Texas' largest grocer is prepping for the vaccines' unprecedented rollout.

San Antonio-based H-E-B announced its pharmacies will administer the COVID-19 vaccine to Texans once it's available to the general public.

"At H-E-B, the health and safety of Texans is our top priority," the company noted in a release posted December 3. "As a trusted source for all routine childhood and adult immunizations, H-E-B pharmacies will partner with the federal and state government to administer the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the general public, following the CDC distribution schedule."

Though it's unclear when H-E-B will receive the vaccine doses and which company's vaccine —Moderna, the Pfizer/BioNTech, or otherwise — will be available through the grocer, health-focused organizations and businesses like H-E-B are preparing for the massive distribution, which could begin as soon as 24 hours after the FDA gives its approval.

The goal of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's plan to help develop, make, and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Americans, is "to deliver safe vaccines that work, with the first supply becoming available before the end of 2020," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also notes once a vaccine is approved and released, there may not be enough doses available for all U.S. adults, though supplies will increase over time and "all adults should be able to get vaccinated later in 2021."

The CDC further states that vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer money will be distributed to Americans for free. However, vaccine providers can charge an administration fee for providing the shot.

It's unclear how many doses each store will receive and whether the company plans to distribute the vaccine through its pharmacy drive-thrus, at onsite pop-up medical tents, or solely from its in-store pharmacies.

"We do have all H-E-B pharmacies registered and ready to administer the vaccine," says Leslie Sweet, H-E-B's director of public affairs in the Central Texas region. "We will follow the prescribed allocation schedule as prescribed by [the Department of State Health Services]. We do not yet have a specific date or allocation number to share."

H-E-B pharmacies throughout the state already have some safety measures in place because of COVID-19 concerns, including allowing customers to prepay for prescriptions on the phone prior to picking them up or have their prescriptions delivered for free, and offering no-contact pickup and delivery of prescriptions through its pharmacy drive-thrus.

Additionally, H-E-B says it is continuing to take steps to protect its customers and employees during the pandemic.

"We're going above and beyond our already stringent sanitation standards, cleaning and disinfecting pharmacy counters, waiting areas, and drive-thru surfaces at a higher frequency," the grocer notes in its recent release. "Our pharmacy partners are practicing proper hand-washing throughout the day, and disinfecting and wiping down commonly used surfaces. We've also installed acrylic barriers and provided masks and gloves for all pharmacy partners. … As always, your health and safety is of the utmost importance to us. Together, we can slow the spread."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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