COVID-19 mass vaccination site would come to eastern Travis County, but more doses are needed

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A large site for COVID-19 vaccinations would land in eastern Travis County, a spokesperson with Austin Public Health tells KXAN.

At this point, APH has received 1,000 doses from the state but would need far more to open a mass vaccination site. The city department has administered hundreds of those vaccines to its own healthcare workers, Travis County Jail direct healthcare clinical staff and long-term care staff and residents that are not enrolled with a vaccine provider, among other groups.

But the number of doses APH has received is small in comparison with other cities. Houston’s health authority got 10,200 doses from the state and plans to open a large vaccination site.

Tarrant County Public Health in north Texas also received more than 10,000 doses.

An APH spokesperson said the department didn’t know why other health authorities received more of the vaccine. The Texas Department of State Health Services didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

“APH’s first priority is to serve as a safety net for the most vulnerable members our community when more vaccine is available,” said the APH spokesperson. “If more vaccine is provided to APH, we will plan to open large sites in Austin and Travis County for the general public to receive vaccine.”

Austin’s health authority finds itself in the same boat as the rest of the community, struggling to navigate what has so far been a confusing vaccine rollout process.

Last week, DSHS ordered providers to administer the vaccine immediately, telling them to vaccinate willing 1A recipients (healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents) and then 1B recipients (those 65 and older and those 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition).

Seamus Jones has a heart condition and was optimistic he might be prioritized for the shot. After calling all 105 providers in the Austin area, he realized that wasn’t going to happen.

“Most of them are still focused on healthcare workers and those on the frontline,” said Jones. “It’s a real challenge. We spent hours on the phone just trying to get through the list.”

Distributing the vaccine fairly

Several elected leaders representing east Austin and Travis County held a press conference Monday to discuss inequities with the current vaccine distribution process.

They noted many of the approved vaccine providers are H-E-B pharmacies and doctor’s offices located on the city’s western side.

Areas in the county’s eastern crescent are more likely to have food deserts, and therefore fewer grocery stores that would offer the vaccine.

Elected officials want vaccines to be administered at places like churches, community centers and schools. They say this would be more inclusive of east Austin and Travis County.

“We have all of these city-held assets that we could utilize for people to be able to receive the vaccines,” said City Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1.

The inequities affecting more vulnerable populations are a big reason why APH would have a mass vaccination site in the eastern crescent.

The APH spokesperson said the city hadn’t decided where it would go. One option is the Travis County Expo Center, which was used as a flu vaccination site in November.

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