Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine are working on a new COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Two major health care institutions in Houston — Texas Children's Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine — are a step closer to rolling out what they dub the "people's vaccine" for COVID-19.

The two institutions, along with India-based vaccine and pharmaceutical company Biological E Ltd., have gained approval to move ahead this month with Phase III clinicals trials in India of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called Corbevax. The Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development developed the vaccine's protein antigen, which was licensed from the Baylor College of Medicine's BCM Ventures commercialization arm.

Unlike COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., Corbevax contains the so-called "spike protein" from the surface of the novel coronavirus. Once that protein is injected via a vaccine, the body is supposed to begin building immunity against the protein and thereby prevent serious illness.

Experts envision Corbevax being a readily available weapon in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the simple vaccine platform (like the one used to prevent Hepatitis B) and the ability to store the vaccine in normal refrigerated settings. The targets of this vaccine are children and mothers.

"In the midst of India's public health crisis, it is our hope that our Texas Children's and Baylor COVID-19 vaccine can be released for emergency authorization in India and in all countries in need of essential COVID-19 vaccinations," Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, says in a June 9 news release.

India has reported more than 29 million cases of COVID-19, causing 354,000 deaths. The country's COVID-19 surge reached its peak in May.

"The vaccines currently available cannot be manufactured quick enough to meet supply shortages in low-income countries," Hotez says. "Our vaccine is truly 'the people's vaccine,' created to serve the most marginalized and underserved populations that are hardest hit by this pandemic. This is the vaccine that could be used to vaccinate the world."

In the Phase III trial, the two-dose Corbevax vaccine will be administered to about 1,200 people age 18 to 80 at 15 sites in India. A larger global study of Corbevax is in the works.

According to India.com, Corbevax could be the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the nation of nearly 1.37 billion people, costing close to $7 for a two-dose regimen. The Indian government already has preordered 300 million doses of Corbevax, which has shown promise in Phase I and Phase II trials. The Phase II trial ended in April.

If the Phase III trial goes as planned, doses could be widely administered as soon as August. Biological E initially plans to produce 75 million to 80 million doses per month, according to media reports. The Indian company foresees manufacturing at least 1 billion doses by the end of 2022.

ClassPass, which recently opened a Houston location, has launched a new tool for users to find their closest vaccine location. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

Tech company launches COVID-19 vaccine finder in Houston

there's an app for that

A global tech company that recently opened a local office in Houston has announced a major upgrade to its app — and it's now available in Houston.

ClassPass, a network of fitness and wellness partners, now has Houston vaccine centers searchable within the app and website. Members can find their closest vaccine center and get important information — like hours and address — as well as how to contact the locations; however, users aren't able to book directly through ClassPass.

"We are in a global health crisis and every company should be helping to support relief and vaccination efforts however they can. Using the ClassPass platform to connect members with vaccine centers is a natural extension of our technology and a way that we can contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19," says Jeff Bladt, vice president of pricing and inventory, in a news release.

"We have deep knowledge of how to help people find accurate and up-to-date information on local businesses after routing millions of users to fitness and wellness locations across 30 countries," he adds.

Users can search for COVID vaccine locations online or through the app. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

The new search option has been rolled out already in in Austin and Dallas, as well as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"The process of finding a vaccination appointment can be challenging and many people don't know where to start," says Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist, health policy expert, and NBC News Medical Analyst, in the release.

"I was thrilled to hear that ClassPass, a high touch app that has already trained people how to search for vital health information, is leveraging their platform to make it easier to identify vaccine sites and secure appointments," he continues. "Anything that can address this information gap is critical in getting more people vaccinated."

ClassPass quickly pivoted when the pandemic hit last year, and now all 41,500 fitness, wellness, and beauty partners on the app have been asked to provide updated details on their COVID policies. ClassPass also worked with 5,000 top studios around the world to add digital classes as an option.

In March, Houston-based ClassPass exec, Rachel Moctron, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss this pivot and the new Houston office. Listen to it below.


This new guide helps streamline vaccine sites and eligibility information in one place. Photo courtesy of CVS Health

New app gives good shot at finding COVID-19 vaccination in Houston

HELP WITH HEALTHCARE

Are you frustrated by the hoops you're jumping through to get a COVID-19 vaccination? The GoodRx drug-price-comparison app has stepped in to help.

GoodRx just rolled out a guide so you can learn about the COVID-19 vaccine, track its availability, and set up a vaccination appointment in Houston or elsewhere in Texas.

"Vaccine information has been fragmented and availability unclear, so GoodRx has built the go-to destination for all Americans to track the vaccine rollout locally," the company says in a statement.

GoodRx is collecting data from more than 15,000 vaccination sites and is monitoring the country's 70,000 pharmacies as well as state-specific sites to update appointment availability. New information is added as it becomes available.

Among other things, the GoodRx guide tells you who's eligible for vaccinations where you live, who's next in line, and how you can make a vaccination appointment. You can even sign up to receive text messages that alert you when vaccination eligibility changes in your area.

This news comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has reopened the state and lifted the mask mandate — which could put Houstonians at even greater risk.

Meanwhile, throughout Texas, the recent winter storm, power outages, and water shortages hampered the ability to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 3, Harris County shows some 351,063 confirmed COVD cases, according to most-recent data, and 2,297,878 cases statewide. Information about the Texas vaccination plan is available on the Department of State Health Services website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Fort Bend is now a COVID-19 vaccine hub. Photo by Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

This Houston suburb is the newest COVID-19 vaccine hub in the region

Help in Fort Bend

A major Houston suburb is the newest major COVID-19 vaccine hub in the region. Fort Bend County has received an additional 8,000 vaccines, county judge KP George announced on February 9 at a press conference.

That means the county is officially an vaccine hub and will receive regular doses of inoculations, George added. Registration is available at the Fort Bend County website.

During the news conference, George said Fort Bend County had been officially designated as a vaccine hub, meaning the county will now be receiving regular doses of the vaccine.

In keeping with statewide mandates, vaccinations are open to those who are in phases 1A or 1B, although those in the next phases will be eligible at a later date, according to the press conference.

This news comes as the Greater Houston area has seen the emergence of the South African COVID-19 variant, as well as two mutations of the UK strain, as CultureMap previously reported.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also ordered a mega vaccine site in the Houston area that promises to deliver some 5,000 to 6,000 inoculations per day. Houston has also received thousands of new vaccines this week.

Meanwhile, for now, COVID hospitalizations are seeing a downturn, according to reports.

For more information on Fort Bend County vaccinations, visit www.fbchealth.org or call 832-471-1373.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Image via luminaremed.com

Houston health tech startup launches COVID-19 vaccine management tool

inoculation innovation

Houston-based health care software startup Luminare Inc. is arming soldiers in the coronavirus vaccination campaign with technology to help smooth the inoculation process.

Luminare, which launched with the mission of combating sepsis, switched gears after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to help combat the virus' spread. One of the ways it's doing that is with Innoculate (a mash-up of "innovate" and "inoculate"). The new platform enables organizations like public health departments, fire departments, school systems, and businesses to manage high-volume vaccination initiatives.

Among other benefits, Innoculate automates vaccination sign-ups and scheduling, tracks the number of vaccine batches available, flags previous allergic reactions among vaccine recipients, and helps achieve compliance with federal, state and local health care requirements.

"Usually when you hear news of a new batch of vaccines headed your way, there is dread at the management and distribution overhead. Not anymore," Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare, says in a release. "Innoculate will help streamline the vaccination process in the fight against COVID-19 and allow for hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccines easily."

One of the first customers of Innoculate is the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District. Innoculate helped the district vaccinate 9,000 people during the first week of its vaccination effort. Peter Collins, chief information officer of the City of Corpus Christi, says Innoculate allows more vaccinations to be done without adding administrative burdens.

Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District was the first government outfit to use Innoculate. The district also uses Luminare's Quickscreen COVID-19 screening and testing tool.

Dallas County Health and Human Services also is adopting Innoculate. On January 27, Dallas County approved a 12-month contract with Luminare worth up to $601,500.

Other new customers that are lined up for Innoculate include the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, Wichita Falls-Wichita County Public Health District, and Brenham-based Blinn College District. Innoculate deals are being finalized with 13 other city and county governments.

Luminare says it wants to "help as many cities and counties in the U.S. that we can." The company asks organizations seeking help with coronavirus vaccination campaigns to email mike.gilbert@luminaremed.com or info@luminaremed.com.

Luminare was founded in 2014 with the goal of preventing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to a host of infections that triggers about one-third of U.S. hospital deaths. Its sepsis-targeted software is called Sagitta.

After the coronavirus began spreading, Luminare tweaked its sepsis-detection platform, called Quickscreen, to produce a free online self-assessment for people who suspect they've been infected with the virus. The startup was honored for this work as COVID Phoenix in Houston Exponential's inaugural awards program, The Listies. Now, it has added Innoculate to its pandemic-fighting arsenal.

Luminare, based at Texas Medical Center's innovation campus, is a 2018 graduate of the TMCx accelerator. According to Crunchbase, the company has collected more than $1.6 million in funding.

The waitlist will still put those at high risk in priority. WPA Pool / Getty Images

Harris County rolls out new COVID-19 vaccination waitlist

WORTH THE SHOT

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a new COVID-19 vaccine waitlist on January 25, in an effort to ensure those who are high priority don't get overlooked and make for a smoother process.

Hidalgo explained the basics of how the waitlist will work. She was joined by Dr. Sherri Onyiego, the interim local health authority for Harris County Public Health.

The waitlist, which can be found at ReadyHarris, is said to be weighted and randomized, meaning the website won't necessarily favor whoever has the quickest internet connection. Once the portal opens Tuesday, January 26, everyone will be able to register.

If you fall under the 1A, 1B or seniors groups, then your registration will be weighted for priority, and it will then be randomized within the priority list.

The launch of this new portal and waitlist expands the previous process by allowing eligible residents to sign up for vaccines on their own directly, according to a press release from the county.

Eligible residents without internet access can also call 832 927-8787 once the portal is live to be placed on the waitlist.

If you do not fall under those three groups, you will still be able to register, but it means you'll be on a waitlist for when the vaccine opens to the general public.

In addition to the new portal, the public health department will also be launching a COVID-19 vaccine data hub. The hub will show vaccine availability, distribution, and other demographic data.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap. For more on this story, including updates, visit our news partner ABC13.

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Houston makes play to score soccer innovation

new goal

Houston is kicking up its 2026 FIFA World Cup bid by a notch or two with a new innovative initiative.

The Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee on October 14 committed to establishing the nonprofit Soccer Innovation Institute if Houston becomes a host city for the FIFA World Cup.

"The institute will rely on Houston's spirit of innovation to create a united community investment in building a legacy that goes well beyond the city," according to a news release announcing the potential formation of the nonprofit.

The soccer institute, made up of a network of experts and leaders from various global organizations, would conduct specialized think tanks and would support a series of community programs.

"As the energy capital of the world, the global leader in medicine, the universal headquarters for NASA, and the home to numerous sports tech companies, Houston has an abundance of resources that are unmatched by other cities," Houston billionaire John Arnold, chairman of the 2026 bid committee, says in a news release. "By bringing these organizations together under one umbrella, the Soccer Innovation Institute presents the ultimate opportunity to redefine the player and fan experience, and develop a lasting legacy for the long-term benefit of the FIFA World Cup."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the institute would align with the city's efforts to build a strong ecosystem for innovation, along with its passion for soccer.

"Houston is recognized as a leader in technology and innovation. We have many innovation hubs around the city that bring bright minds into collaborative spaces where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," the mayor says.

Held every four years, the World Cup assembles national men's soccer teams from around the world in one of the most planet's most watched sporting events. The traditional 32-team tournament will expand to 48 teams in 2026. After 2026, the World Cup might be staged every two years.

Among those collaborating on the Houston 2026 bid are NRG, the Texas Medical Center, Shell, Chevron, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the Council for Responsible Sport, the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Dash, the City of Houston, Harris County, and Houston First.

The FIFA World Cup 2026 will be played in 16 cities across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Houston and Dallas are among the 17 cities vying to become a U.S. host. A final decision is expected in the first half of 2022. If Houston is selected, it will host six World Cup games at NRG Stadium.

Between October 21 and November 1, World Cup delegates will visit eight cities in the running to be North American hosts: Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Monterrey, Mexico.

Why small businesses are a big deal in Pearland

Small Business, Big Success

Here's a fun fact: 82 percent of businesses in Pearland are locally owned.

Besides providing a warm, fuzzy feeling, that fact actually has a big impact on what the the Lower Kirby city has to offer other companies that are looking to relocate.

Understanding that small businesses are vital to the local economy, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation does all it can to support the formation and growth of new businesses.

To gain a better understanding of the needs of local businesses, PEDC recently conducted a survey of all businesses in the community. The survey found that 92 percent of business owners felt that Pearland is a great place to live, work, and operate a business, and more than 80 percent of survey respondents gave excellent or good marks to Pearland as a place to do business — higher than the national comparison.

The city recently launched an online permitting portal that helps emerging businesses navigate the business registration process with a streamlined, easy-to-use interface that can be accessed anywhere, any time.

By answering just a few questions, potential new business owners can see all the necessary requirements and fees. And commercial permits are reviewed and approved within 20 days, on average.

Additionally, PEDC and community partners are creating an Entrepreneurship Hub, which will enhance Pearland's innovation entrepreneurship culture by creating events, programs, and activities for entrepreneurs and small business owners to inspire ideation and entrepreneurship.

The Hub will connect the city to local and regional entrepreneurship assistance programs, service providers, and funding sources to help businesses maximize their growth potential and overall success. Offerings of the Hub will include business plan competitions, proactive coaching, networking events, and student programs.

In addition to the resources offered, many small businesses that have relocated to Pearland cite the safety of the community and ease of access via multiple thoroughfares as top reasons that led them to the community.

Brask Neela, a small business founded in Louisiana, constructed a new manufacturing facility in Pearland to custom fabricate heat transfer equipment on 9.45 acres in Pearland's Industrial Drive Business Park. After its move to the Pearland area, the company can better service petrochemical and chemical customers in Texas City, Freeport, and Baytown, as well as global clients.

In addition to PEDC's assistance with land acquisition and attractive incentives, Brask Neela was drawn to the location's proximity to the workforce, the area's infrastructure, and open communications with the City of Pearland.

"Pearland provided incentives, proximity to workforce both for shop and office, infrastructure, and clear communication to address any needs with city officials," says Kevin Sareen, Brask Neela's business development manager.

Rollac Shutters manufactures exterior rolling shutters, solar zip shades, and awnings, and opened a 105,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing facility that allowed the company to engage in environmentally responsible manufacturing practices and integrate sustainability principles in its day-to-day operations.

"As a family-owned business, location and incentives were most important to us," says Eva Konrad, vice president at Rollac Shutters. "Pearland offered both and we love it here."

Houston-area school scores top 10 status in Texas

star pupils

A Houston-area school earned top honors in Texas in U.S. News & World Report's first-ever ranking of the state's best elementary schools.

Creekside Forest Elementary School comes in at No. 10. Creekside is nestled in the bustling Woodlands and in the Tomball Independent School District.

A public school, Creekside Forest Elementary boasts student population of 571, serving serves kindergarten through fifth grade. Impressively, according to the report, 93 percent of students here scored at or above the proficient level for math, and 87 percent scored at or above that level for reading.

Notably, the student-teacher ratio is at Creekside is 16:1, which is better than that of the district. The school employs 36 equivalent full-time teachers and one full-time school counselor.

The student population at Creekside is made up of 49 percent female students and 51 percent male students, with minority student enrollment at 43 percent. One percent of students here at economically disadvantaged.

According to the school's website, Creekside "is a learning community where all continuously strive for excellence."

Unlike its annual list of the country's best high schools, U.S. News & World Report didn't come up with a national ranking of elementary schools. Rather, it published a ranking for each state.

Myriad other Houston-area schools land later on the list, including West University Elementary at No. 17. According to U.S. News, the 10 best elementary schools in Texas are:

  1. William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard for the Academically Talented and Gifted, Dallas ISD.
  2. Windsor Park G/T Elementary School, Corpus Christi ISD.
  3. Old Union Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  4. Carroll Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  5. Hudson Elementary School, Longview ISD.
  6. Sudie L. Williams Talented and Gifted Academy, Dallas ISD.
  7. Canyon Creek Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  8. Carver Center, Midland ISD.
  9. Cactus Ranch Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  10. Creekside Forest Elementary School, Tomball ISD.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.