AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a “much needed” break over the holiday weekend, Travis County says it’s hitting the ground running to get a booster shot plan in place, and more importantly, get people who are completely unprotected against COVID-19 vaccinated with first and second doses.
Austin-Travis County previously set a goal of having at least 70% of the eligible community protected by Labor Day. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, Travis County is at 68.04%. It falls just short of the goal.
“While the goal was missed, APH is proud of our community in coming together during this latest surge and the increased efforts we have seen by individuals to help get our community fully vaccinated,” a spokesperson for APH said. He also pointed to Travis County’s vaccine rate being higher than other major metro areas in the state.
In Harris County, which houses Houston, only 60.87% of eligible people are fully vaccinated. In Dallas County, that number is 57.55%. Just over 58% of the eligible people in Texas are fully vaccinated.
The map below shows the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in different counties across Texas. It reflects total population and does not account for children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get their vaccine.
While Austin-Travis County is indeed doing better than other large cities in Texas, the fact remains there are still roughly 250,000 people in Austin-Travis County that are unvaccinated. That’s a number APH and Travis County are trying to chip away at.
Travis County Constable George Morales told county commissioners Tuesday they gave nearly 1,000 COVID-19 shots in Travis County last week alone. He estimated his team gave at least 6,700 shots in August.
“If we do get the vaccination rate up higher then we’re going to have fewer of these recurrences,” Judge Andy Brown said in Tuesday’s meeting.
It does appear Central Texas is seeing movement in the direction of herd immunity. Whether it be concerns about the delta variant, the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine, incentive programs or other factors, people are getting vaccinated at higher rates than we were seeing even just a month ago.
Take Peggy Daniels’ family, for example.
A month ago, Daniels reached out to KXAN during our ‘Keep Austin Well’ town hall to ask about tools for addressing vaccine hesitancy in her family. A month later, both of her kids have received at least their first dose of a vaccine.
Daniels says the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine was largely to thank for her son’s vaccination. Her daughter was worried about spreading the virus to her parents, as the delta variant has proven more transmissible.
“She actually got her first shot before it was FDA approved,” Daniels said.
Moderna will likely miss President Joe Biden’s Sept. 20 deadline for a nationwide booster shot distribution, top U.S. health officials told the White House last week. Those officials reported the FDA needs more time to review Moderna’s application, reportedly saying the drug maker’s data was “inadequate and needs strengthening.”
Meanwhile, Pfizer vaccines should be ready for a Sept. 20 rollout. Johnson & Johnson booster shots were not available in the U.S. until March, and a plan is expected to be released for those shots in the next few weeks.
People who are immunocompromised are already eligible for a booster vaccine right now. More than 260 people have qualified and opted to get that dose in Austin-Travis County so far.
For everyone else, the local rollout will largely depend on guidance handed down from federal health agencies like the CDC and FDA. Austin-Travis County health leaders are using that guidance as they work on a booster shot rollout plan, as directed by city council last month. That directive was inspired by issues APH had at the beginning of the year.
Both APH and Travis County have said they anticipate a much smoother distribution this time around largely because there are now more than 300 providers in Travis County able to give vaccines this time, and the vaccine is much more available.
It’s also important to remember while the announcement was made by the White House last month, boosters are not recommended until eight months after you got your last dose of the vaccine. For many people without underlying health conditions and a job on the front lines, that’s not for a few months.
The county says it is more worried and focused on getting people who have not accessed any protection against COVID-19 to get their first and second doses.
“We will continue to work with our community partners and organizations trying to make the vaccine as accessible as possible, especially in areas in our community we know there are still hesitancy or lower vaccination rates and educate the public on the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks,” an APH spokesperson said.
You can find locations for a vaccine, or sign up for an appointment on Austin Public Health’s website.