Austin Public Health works to expand mobile vaccine options for homebound seniors

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Like many Austinites, Stacy Aannestad has been helping her nearly 90-year-old parents with registering for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“You almost have to game the system in order to get an appointment. My 89-year-old dad doesn’t know how to game the system. I don’t even know how to game the system,” she said.

After a year of staying at home, her parents are worried about heading to a vaccine distribution site. Plus, transportation isn’t easy for them, she said.

“[My mom] is struggling with where to go where she doesn’t either have to ride in the car for a very long time or stand in a long line, but also very concerned with being in a space with a lot of other people,” Aannestad said.

She was thrilled to read about the Save Our Seniors initiative, utilizing National Guardsmen and partnerships with Meals on Wheels to distribute vaccines to homebound seniors, but there was one big problem.

The highly touted program isn’t available in Travis County or even in nearby Williamson and Hays Counties.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced 34 counties would be participating in the second week of the program. The state analyzed several data points regarding the vaccine rollout in order to choose the participating counties, with a focus on “allocating vaccine equitably across the state,” including:

  • Number of approved providers serving the area
  • Total allocations over the previous 12 weeks
  • Data showing the least vaccinated counties for both 65+ and 75+ administered doses;

“With the Save Our Seniors initiative, Texas is providing vaccines to seniors across our state who are most at risk from COVID-19,” Abbott said in a release. “For the second week of the program, we have allocated over 10,000 vaccines to reach the most vulnerable populations in our communities. I thank the men and women of the National Guard who are carrying out this important mission to protect seniors in need.”

Aannestad asked KXAN investigators, “Why do we not have a program like this?”

In a presentation to Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council, Austin Public Health officials said they’re working on it.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said they are working with at least eight nonprofit partners.

“They assist us with determining where we can be. They assist us with a list of folks that they are going to refer to us,” she said.

Then, she explained, APH would come in and organize appointment schedules and administer the vaccines.

Hayden-Howard noted their partnership in particular with Meals on Wheels Central Texas — indicating this effort could be rolled out as soon as March 22. She also said they were working with the Housing Authority on setting up vaccine events in the community rooms of some senior living apartments or places where high volumes of high-risk people might live. Additionally, she said there were churches compiling lists of their congregation who qualify and want the vaccine, in order to hold convenient vaccine events — possibly on Sundays.

District 2 City Councilwoman Vanessa Fuentes asked what options might be available to seniors not affiliated with any of these programs or nonprofits.

“If I’m an Austinite that’s not affiliated with any of those entities, then it’s up to me to get registered online or to call the number?” she asked.

In response, Hayden-Howard said the participating nonprofits were also referring names of people in this situation to APH. They still encourage anyone who can to use the online sign-up portal to ensure they don’t miss anyone.

“Our staff will be doing home visits with folks who say, ‘me and my wife are disabled and homebound. We are not working with any of those organizations.’ Basically, our staff will be able to go into their homes to provide those vaccines,” she said.

  • To hear more from this joint APH briefing, click here.

When asked if they had considered a truly “mobile” vaccine clinic operated out of a van or vehicle, Hayden-Howard said the purchasing department was “considering” contracting with a third party vendor on this type of effort.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown said, “I think our duty is to make sure we have full capacity in the entire county — east, west, north and south — so that when we get these mass quantities, we are making them available to people no matter where they live, no matter what their income is, no matter what their ability is to drive somewhere.”

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