Why do some Texas counties get more vaccine doses than others?

Texas Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With close to 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses expected to head to Texas next week, counties and vaccine providers may see a shift in how vaccines are allocated and distributed.

Texas Department of State Health Services officials explained they try to keep each county’s allocation in a range of less than 1% deviation from their proportion of the state’s population. However, with each provider handling the expanded eligibility guidelines differently, DSHS is reaching out to providers and reviewing their allocation process.

“That may wax and wane from week to week depending on the provider demand in that particular area, but also what we know is happening during that particular week,” said Texas Department of State Health Services Associate Commissioner Imelda Garcia.

KXAN investigators pressed the state on why some areas were receiving significantly different amounts of vaccine than other similarly-sized Texas counties.

For example, San Saba remains the least vaccinated Central Texas county and one of the least vaccinated counties in the state. With a population of 5,000 people ages 16 and up, the county has only received 1,900 vaccine doses. As of DSHS data on Friday morning, 10% of their residents were fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Presidio County in West Texas has a population of 5,069, but they have received 5,000 vaccine doses. According to DSHS data, nearly 50% of residents in Presidio County have been fully vaccinated.

Garcia said they have been reaching out to vaccine providers to ensure they are “burning through their doses.” She cited these efforts as the reason behind a “significant shift” in allocations this past week.

According to DSHS, many providers requested a break in allocation to adjust their protocols. Some, Garcia explained, requested reduced amounts moving forward, while others saw a higher demand.

“At the end of the day, from week to week to week, it’s really based on what the provider can handle that week,” she said. “Some weeks, we have some counties where providers don’t ask for any additional doses. Then the next week, they will go back and ask for more.”

Marsha Hardy, who operates San Saba’s Emergency Management Division, told KXAN they received and distributed 170 vaccines in a clinic in early April. They were offered as many as 500 doses, but didn’t see enough interest from the community. So, they communicated that to the state to ensure no doses were delivered and wasted.

“But that’s 170 more than we had!” she told KXAN’s Avery Travis in an update.

Ahead of the clinic, Hardy also talked through the logistical issues their smaller county has faced when larger shipments have been offered to them. She and other county leaders also worried about vaccine hesitancy was affecting their vaccination efforts.

When asked about other counties of similar size with more success, Hardy asked, “How’d they do it? I don’t know. Then, to be real honest, if we tried it — then we can’t get people to come in– then we are left with vaccines that we don’t have bodies for.”

San Saba County Judge Byron Theodosis echoed her concerns, saying, “I’m afraid we are going to go from not having enough vaccine, to not having enough people to give the vaccine to.”

Hardy emphasized that small, more consistent shipments of vaccine would be more manageable for them as they work to build confidence in the community.

“It may not be pretty, but we will get it done,” she said.

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