January vaccine rollout was bumpy in Austin, here’s what APH is doing different for boosters

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — U.S. health officials are recommending all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots as vaccine effectiveness has been shown to decrease over time, as is the case with most vaccines.

The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top authorities Wednesday, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The CDC also announced Wednesday, they anticipate booster shots will be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks. With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots as well,” the CDC said in a joint release.

The third dose of Pfizer and Moderna could begin the week of Sept. 20, roughly a month away. People who are immunocompromised are being asked to get their shots now.

Austin-Travis County preparing

Austin-Travis County health leaders are currently working to figure out how to handle the surge of people who will need that third shot in the next few months. They’re hoping to avoid the same backlog and speedbumps they saw earlier this year.

“Full transparency, one of the biggest hurdles will be a location that could handle a mass clinic,” Adrienne Sturrup, interim director for Austin Public Health said before Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Tuesday.

When first and second doses were being administered in mass settings back at the beginning of the year, the city and county were using schools and large event venues to distribute shots. Those venues are now being used for their intended purposes again, and won’t be available.

Sturrup said APH is still working to identify possible locations for mass vaccination clinics and figure out how to staff them.

“The bones are in place, we’ve identified the staff needs that we’ll have, we’ve talked about locations, we’ve talked about how to integrate that into our existing sites, we’ve built out the initial questions that someone will have to answer for the self-attestation,” Sturrup said.

Sturrup said APH was also working with their technology teams Tuesday to make sure the system could handle and categorize returning and new patients looking to get that third shot. That was a problem during the vaccine rollout earlier this year.

“Those key pieces have already been in place, but now with that final guidance we can put all of that together and have a more formalized plan,” Sturrup said. “Once we have everything in place it will be announced to the public.”

More vaccine providers stepping in

Sturrup also noted that even though the city and county have less mass vaccination venue options this go around, there are also more partners who have the ability to help distribute the vaccine.

“We’re also hoping that we’re in a different place than January when APH was one of the few providers in our community. We’re really hoping that now that the vaccine is more readily available that we won’t kind of see those wait times at those centers that the county or the city will set up,” she said.

Clinics like CVS and Walgreens have already started giving booster shots to people who are immunocompromised and qualify now.

To figure out if you qualify for a booster shot based on health conditions, see KXAN’s coverage on how and where to get your dose.

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