AUSTIN (KXAN) — While vaccine supply and demand shift, Austin Public Health officials said Friday they need to start changing strategies to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.
With APH’s online appointment scheduling tool not as bombarded with people trying to get appointments like it was earlier in the process, officials realize that they’re going to have to tweak how they get vaccines to people who need it, but haven’t been able to get it.
“This is what we anticipated with the vaccine supply and administration for us, across Texas and across the country,” Dr. Mark Escott said. “We’re going to have a period where demand far exceeds supply … then we’ll plateau out … and then we’re going to go into a phase where supply exceeds demand. This is what we’ve been talking about shifting strategies, changing hours and locations, so people can get the vaccine closer to home.”
Escott said APH is one of 350 providers that give the vaccine in Travis County, and with more doses being doled out across the state, APH said other providers can provide it more readily, and that APH can go back to being the community’s “safety net.”
“We can focus more efforts on individuals that don’t have access other people do in the community so we can provide those services to folks who need it the most,” Escott said.
Cassandra DeLeon, an assistant director with APH, said that they are also talking about leaving the scheduling process completely open and not limiting it to the Monday and Thursday evening time windows.
“We’re looking at strategies to help alleviate the scheduling process so people can just get scheduled with when they are thinking about it,” DeLeon said.
She said she anticipates to have more information about changes of that nature next week.
APH Director Stephanie Howard-Hayden said the agency is going to rely more on its mobile unit to get people vaccinated.
“This is the time we gradually start to pivot to establish partnerships and do more with our mobile vaccine team,” she said. “Also, looking at locations where we are partnering, like with the Health Alliance for Musicians. It’s important for us to start down that path at looking at more of a neighborhood model.”
Escott said they are looking at setting up vaccine clinics at EMS and fire stations in communities to help reduce travel and increase accessibility.
An Austin Fire Department spokeswoman said it had not heard from APH or had discussions about the idea yet.
DeLeon said there’s about a 10-20% no-show rate at their second-dose clinics, but it doesn’t mean people are just skipping it. She didn’t have specific data, but anecdotally that’s what she and staff have observed.
“We want to make sure people are vigilant about getting that second dose,” she said. “We really want to encourage folks to follow up on that second dose.”
She said if anyone has issues getting a second dose to call 3-1-1 and an operator can help facilitate it.
Howard-Hayden said if anyone gets their second dose from another provider, they should log in to their profile on the APH website and let them know. People can also get their second dose with APH even if they received the first dose through another provider.
An uptick in cases
Escott said there has been a slight increase in new COVID-19 cases, and even as more people get vaccinated, the public still needs to keep masks on and keep a safe distance from others.
Data shows there has been a 10% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since last week and a 25% rise in the rolling average of reported cases.
“COVID is still here and still spreading,” Escott said. “We’ve got to maintain those protections so we can drive down disease and give people the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Escott said he revised the health authority rules that are in place through May 18, and they continue to require masking in public places. He said he’s pleased Austin-Travis County has been able to continue its mask mandate and also with businesses that are also behind the mandate.
“They understand that if there’s a surge again, it may impact their business in a more profound way,” Escott said. “It’s going to continue to protect Austin.”