AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas health officials are giving local pharmacies the go-ahead to start vaccinating those in Phase 1B for COVID-19 while Phase 1A is still underway. However, many pharmacies say they are not yet prepared or willing to vaccinate those in Phase 1B. Supplies are still limited for many, and providers want to make sure they are able to fully vaccinate each phase before moving on to the next.
On Tuesday, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt released the following statement to local providers with shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine:
“All providers that have received COVID-19 vaccine must immediately vaccinate healthcare workers, Texans over the age of 65 and people with medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19. No vaccine should be kept in reserve.”
DSHS reported vaccine supplies are still limited, but more shipments will go out to providers each week.
While Phase 1A of Texas’ COVID-19 vaccine distribution includes frontline and healthcare workers, as well as some first responders, funeral home workers and school nurses, Phase 1B includes those over 65 and people with certain medical conditions.
Pharmacists at Tarrytown Pharmacy say their phones have been ringing nonstop since DSHS made the announcement Tuesday.
“We’re getting so many calls about it. We’ve been all hands on deck,” said Rannon Ching, Tarrytown pharmacist in charge. “We’re going to use up every dose as quickly as possible, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Over 500 doses in three days have been administered at Tarrytown. Ching says he hears DSHS loud and clear, but this all comes down to logistics.
“If there is a dose available, then we want to get them in the hands of patients whether they are 1A or 1B,” Ching said.
Right now, getting the vaccine at Tarrytown is by appointment only. Ching says there’s still plenty of healthcare providers on the list, and that’s a sentiment H-E-B pharmacies echo.
“I think H-E-B is going to continue following the spirit of the guidelines, which again is getting healthcare providers immunized first,” said Lauren Clark, H-E-B pharmacist.
Clark says if a dose is available that cannot be filled by someone in Phase 1A at the time, then they will move onto someone in Phase 1B.
H-E-B also released a clarification on Twitter Wednesday, saying “There is some confusion based on updates from TX Dept of State Health Services. While some providers may be offering it to those in 1B, we are not yet in this phase as we are still receiving shipments. We will continue to offer vaccine to the healthcare worker group at this time.”
Originally, DSHS said vaccinations for Phase 1B wouldn’t start for weeks, as the state worked to get those in Phase 1A vaccinated. DSHS said there’s an estimated 1.9 million people in Phase 1A.
“I would say this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. I think it’s gong to be that way for everyone,” said Clark. “Rest assured H-E-B pharmacists are just as excited about giving this vaccine as the people are excited to receive it.”
Ascension Seton told KXAN Wednesday it has vaccinated more than 10,000 frontline caregivers, support staff and providers and will remain focused on vaccinating those groups. It said it will expand to the community, including those in group 1B, “in the coming weeks when vaccine supply allows.” It said it will make an announcement when it moves to that next phase of vaccination.
St. David’s also released a statement Wednesday, saying “While we acknowledge the state has opened eligibility for adults over 65 and those with specific chronic conditions over age 16 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, our current vaccine supply only allows for vaccinations for our employees and doctors at this time.”
Finding a local COVID-19 vaccine provider
The state has set up a map of local vaccine providers across Texas online. While the map is available, DSHS wants to remind you to call ahead to see if the pharmacy or clinic is distributing to priority groups right now.
Some pharmacies, like H-E-B, require an appointment for COVID-19 vaccinations. The company said in a statement to KXAN that walk-ins will not be accepted.