AUSTIN (KXAN) — With about 550,000 people in Travis County qualifying for COVID-19 vaccinations in Phase 1A and 1B combined, the county’s interim health authority says it’ll take “months” to get everyone shots.
Dr. Mark Escott said even with the promising vaccine being produced by Johnson & Johnson, a single-dose vaccine that showed over 70% efficacy in U.S. trials, he still thinks those in the first two phases won’t be vaccinated until the spring.
“A single dose makes it a lot easier to get people vaccinated, and it only requires refrigeration, so we can get it out to areas we wouldn’t normally be able to,” Escott said. “We’re hopeful the vaccine is approved. It’s a winner.”
Johnson & Johnson says the vaccine’s efficacy is 72% for preventing severe disease right away. However, it improves over time. A month after receiving the dose, its 85%. After 49 days, it’s 100% at preventing hospitalization. The company is preparing to apply for emergency use authorization this month.
Community pharmacies are excitedly anticipating a larger vaccine supply for the State of Texas to have on hand. Jeffrey Warnken, the owner and pharmacist at 38th Street Pharmacy in Austin said he hasn’t received a new shipment of vaccines in weeks.
“We’ve been requesting additional allocations and everyone keeps telling us no. [DSHS is] concentrating on these massive hubs,” Warnken said. “Whether its from the federal, from the state, from the county or cities, I wish they would listen to peoples outcry. Both the pharmacies and the patients, because they want to be vaccinated and I think they need to spread out their allocations to more places.”
DSHS told KXAN there is a limited supply, but the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would make things simpler on the allocation and administration end. The state already has the new vaccine in-house, but it is waiting on the emergency use authorization in order for it to be immediately distributed.
As of Thursday, 2,056,962 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Texas. People who have been vaccinated with at least one dose number 1,687,025, and 369,937 people are fully vaccinated, DSHS reports.
As of Friday, Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said the agency has administered 28,717 doses of the vaccine. She told those who have received their first dose not to call or schedule follow-up appointments for their second dose, but rather wait for APH to reach back out. She said people will receive a notification 3-5 days before their second dose is due.
Phase 1C group coming
As folks in Phases 1A and 1B receive vaccinations, the Texas Department of State Health Services will begin to create a Phase 1C group, something Escott said will be similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation.
The CDC’s version of Phase 1C consists of people aged 65-74, people aged 16-74 with underlying health issues and other essential workers. Escott said there’s potential to create a parallel strategy to vaccinate all three phases at the same time.
Alternate care site update
Admissions to the alternate care site inside Austin Convention Center has almost doubled since Tuesday from 28 to 49, Escott said. All of the patients have been transferred there from hospitals in the five-county area around Austin, he said.
“We haven’t begun to take patients from outside that area,” Escott said. “We’ve had an efficient referral process and our hospitals are sending the appropriate people there.”
Austin-Travis County was the last metropolitan area to enter surge protocols with at least 15% of total hospitalizations due to COVID-19 for seven consecutive days, Escott said. With those numbers falling, he said it could be the first metro area to come out of the protocol as early as Saturday.
“That’s great for our community,” he said, “but we need to continue that vigilance in terms of protecting ourselves and continuing masking and distancing.”
More streamlined pre-registration
Hayden-Howard said APH is in the process of updating its pre-registration website after glitches and other technical issues soured its debut about three weeks ago.
“We’re always making changes to it,” she said. “Some of those changes are seamless to the end user … what we decided to do with his last round of updates is send it out to a closed group as a test.”
Users should clearly be able to see what they need to do in order to get their second dose, she said.
Officials also pointed out the DSHS site was redesigned and is now easier for people to see which providers have vaccine doses across Texas. It breaks it down into where vaccine hubs are located, along with providers who have the first doses and those locations where there’s not availability.
The data is compiled directly from what the providers report back to DSHS as far as how many vaccines they’ve administered and how many they have left, so it’s best to contact the provider you plan on going to before hand to check availibility.
Still no evidence of classroom spread
While positivity rates in school-aged children are higher than that of the general population, Escott said it’s not because of on-campus classes.
“The spread is happening in extracurricular activities,” he said. “We see clusters associated with soccer, basketball and other athletic activities … dance, cheerleading. We see it in shared transportation, carpools and buses, and kids who are having parties.”
As he has continually said, he wants schools to reduce extracurricular activities and modify cafeteria activities and other potential group settings.
In the end, it’s up to parents to “ensure they are talking to their children about being COVID safe,” he said