AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health briefed local leaders Monday about a host of changes the department is working on to improve COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Notably, those changes include a shift in when appointments will be released. The department said it will now be releasing appointments for COVID-19 vaccines each Tuesday and Thursday so that those eligible can register.

  • To learn more about registering for a COVID-19 vaccine through Austin Public Health, look here.

The move to release registration for COVID-19 appointments to Tuesdays and Thursdays started on Feb. 2, explained APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard. Lately, APH has been receiving 12,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses each week from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), but Hayden-Howard said if that amount increased, APH could also increase the number of days on which COVID-19 vaccination appointments are released.

This change comes at a time when demand for the COVID-19 vaccine outpaces the supply APH has, even for those who are eligible. APH said as of Tuesday morning, 532,339 people have registered on its waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine. Those individuals could be in any tier and could be from any zip code in Texas (as DSHS requires) but APH said most of those people on that list are in the Austin-Travis County metro area.

Out of those 532,339 people signed up on the APH portal, the department said there are 188,825 of them eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday morning — meaning people over the age of 65 OR people over the age of 18 who have a medical condition that meets the DSHS the Phase 1B criteria.

Some people in that group of 188,825 individuals who fall into the highest-risk categories for COVID-19 will get emails from APH when appointments are about to become available. APH made it clear at Tuesday’s meeting it doesn’t have the resources to contact all 188,825 people each time vaccines become available.

APH has a system based on who is potentially eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine where people are awarded points according to their risk factors. The APH emails notifying people of COVID-19 vaccine appointments being released will go to the people who have the most points in this APH system. The department does this in hopes of having more outreach to people who appear to be in a position where they would be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and more likely to be hospitalized. 

APH said these emails are sent out two hours prior to the vaccine registration becoming available on their portal.

Recently, APH has been getting 12,000 vaccines each week from the state, so at that rate, it would take around sixteen weeks just to give first doses of the vaccine to that group of people of 188,825 people. The department added that achieving that sixteen-week timeframe will also depend on DSHS continuing to give then 12,000 doses per week.

APH said it did not send out appointment emails on Feb. 2.

APH said it also does not have the resources to call 12,000 people each week to remind them about appointments. On Tuesday, Travis County Commissioners approved an agreement with the city to use county staff to help APH with a call center for the COVID-19 vaccine. Hayden-Howard said with this new help from the county partnership, APH will be able to call some of the eligible individuals each week to alert them that appointments are available: those who are over the age of 80 (who have the highest risk of dying from COVID-19) as well as those who have expressed to APH they’ve had trouble registering online.

“Our hope is that they would be looking at their email. We are concerned that they are probably not looking at their email, and so there has to be an additional step in the process where folks are reaching out to them to schedule,” Hayden-Howard said at the meeting Tuesday.

This call center outreach to certain people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will be available to help people register on the APH portal and to help them schedule a vaccine appointment. This partnership with the county to assist the call center will be in effect through the end of March, Hayden-Howard said.

An updated flowchart from Austin Public Health released on February 3, 2020, explaining who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine through Austin Public Health at this time.

As of this time, Austin Public Health said people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from them include:

  • Health care workers
  • People who live or work in a long-term care facility
  • Designated essential caregivers
  • Those over the age of 65
  • Those over the age of 18 with a chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for COVID-19. (Because APH is only giving out the Moderna vaccine and you have to be at least 18 to take the Moderna vaccine, that’s why you have to be at least 18 to get it).

The Austin metro area remains in Stage 5 of the COVID-19 risk levels used locally based on the region’s COVID-19 hospitalizations. Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday the latest UT Austin COVID-19 models project that hospitalizations will lower enough by Feb. 18 for the Austin metro area to move back down to Stage 4.