AUSTIN (KXAN) — At the current rate, it could take months to vaccinate those in Austin and Travis County against the coronavirus, health experts said Friday. So far 18,427 first doses have been given out over the past few weeks, just a fraction of the estimated 1.2 million people in the area.
“We don’t have enough vaccines,” said Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority. He asked everyone to remain vigilant and to use common-sense health protocols to curb the spread of the virus until more vaccines can be acquired.
Escott predicted that it won’t be until March or April, based on the current vaccination rate, that hospitals will no longer be overwhelmed.
Escott said it’s an issue with top-down supply from higher resources. He explained that at the federal level, many promises and expectations were not met. The state has supplied the local hub with 24,000 doses within two weeks, but there is a population of more than 129,000 eligible to receive a dose at this time.
“We have only received 1% of the vaccine that can cover Austin and Travis County,” Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said. “We know we need more vaccines. We are overwhelmed and excited with the amount of people who want vaccines.”
Janet Pichette, Travis County’s Chief Epidemiologist, asked for patience from the community, saying that all levels of COVID-19 response in the county are maxed out. That includes case investigation, data entry, testing, alternate care site operations and the regional infusion center.
“We are in the midst of a surge in all of our operations related to COVID-19 response,” Pichette said. Pichette said one isolation facility is near capacity, which has prompted the city to open a second.
Virtual learning recommended
Escott suggested that families who are able to keep their kids home from school continue to do so. He said he was concerned that different, more contagious variants of the virus may mutate over the next year, which may make it harder to contain. He said schools have done a good job of modifying operations, but the more the virus mutates, the harder it will be to keep from spreading.
“I think parents need to use caution in making a decision about returning to in-person,” Escott said.
On Thursday, a letter from the superintendent’s office to Austin ISD families, which suggested consensual agreement between APH and AISD, welcomed students back to campus beginning on Monday. Previously, Superintendent Elizalde had suggested that all families stay home to learn remotely during Stage 5. On Friday, Escott said that if parents can choose virtual, it will help drive down the number of cases and hospitalizations.
The Austin Public Health team also said it is working to rebuild the community’s trust. They recognized that there are increasing calls for transparency, both for a clearer picture of who is getting the vaccine doses allotted and also for outreach in the community.
Austin Public Health officials say it has partnered with several local nonprofits who will assist with education and outreach. Ambassador positions have been created that will assist with portal sign-ups for appointments.
There is also an effort to better collect data which will drive decision making. Escott said APH is working to create a portal which will track racial and socio-economic data about vaccinations. He also said that as supply ramps up, more locations will be opened in the eastern crescent, which will also drive up distribution. Escott hopes to soon be able to deliver 10,000 vaccinations per day.