AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin-based COVID-19 vaccine provider explained to KXAN that confusion over the state’s COVID-19 distribution guidelines led it to give its second allocation of vaccine doses as first doses. The company did not receive additional vaccine doses as it expected.

As a result more than 1,800 Central Texans, who they gave the first dose to, don’t know when they’ll be able to get their second dose.

First Medical Response of Texas, a company that served as a standby ambulance and paramedic service for large events prior to the pandemic, went through the steps during the fall of 2020 to be approved as a COVID-19 vaccine provider in the state of Texas, explained president Edwin Reyes.

On Dec. 28, the company received its first allocation of 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The company offered vaccine clinics to people who qualified in the 1a and 1b vaccine tiers, starting on Dec. 30 in Dripping Springs, Westlake, and the San Marcos area. Reyes said they ran out of vaccines by Jan. 3.

A photo of the First Response Medical trailer that is used to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo from First Medical Response Facebook).

At that time, the current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was that the two doses for the Moderna vaccine should be given 28 days apart. Reyes said his company was surprised to receive another 1,000 doses on Jan. 19, which was 20 days after the first doses had been administered and obviously short of the recommended 28 days. (On Jan. 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued updated guidance which said that if the recommended number of days between doses was not possible, that both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can have the second doses follow up to 42 days after the first dose).

While Reyes admitted the second shipment of vaccines were labeled as second doses, he said he was confused because his team had regularly been getting emails from DSHS to the effect of “you’re not to be holding vaccinations, you need to keep vaccinating , there’s more vaccines coming.”

Because the state had been urging providers not to hold onto vaccines, Reyes said he wasn’t sure if the intent was to start distributing the vaccines immediately as first doses or hold them for a week until they could be shared as second doses.

Reyes said one email he had received from the state shared a particularly pointed advisory from DSHS Commissioner Dr.  John Hellerstedt. That same quotation can also be found on the DSHS website:

“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 Commissioner John Hellerstedt, M.D.
A photo of a First Response Medical of Texas employee with COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo Courtesy of First Response Medical Facebook).

Reyes said his team tried for three days to contact DSHS through the vaccine provider hotline, virtual sessions for vaccine providers, and emails. He said the state employees who responded to these messages from First Medical Response “really never addressed the actual question that was our concern.”

“And then we decided, hey, it’s been three days already, we have a huge waitlist, I think it’s better for us to get a thousand doses, to keep pushing down our waitlist in hopes the state will get more allocations out to us,” he told KXAN.

“We made the decision, combined with all the information we had in hand, that it was better to vaccinate more people, continue vaccinating than just to hold them and let them sit there,” Reyes said.

First Medical Response was expecting to receive more vaccine allocations from the state, but so far they haven’t gotten any additional doses.

Reyes added that his company has put in requests for two additional allocations of 1,000 doses with the state, but has yet to receive them on any of the state’s recent allocations. In the meantime, Reyes has been fielding calls from hundreds of patients each day, concerned that they haven’t received their second dose yet. He said his team was able to give second vaccine doses to nearly 200 people with their initial allocations, which leaves around 1,800 who are still awaiting a second dose.

This includes around 200 Lake Travis ISD employees who got their first shot through a partnership with First Medical Response, though Reyes notes this was the last group his company vaccinated, so they will have more time to get their second doses.

First Medical Response is advising those who’ve gotten the first shot through their company to get on other waitlists through hubs like Austin Public Health.

In addition to the 1,800 individuals First Medical Response has already provided one COVID-19 vaccine dose to, the company said there are an additional 7,000 people in the 1a and 1b groups on their waitlist currently.

Reyes believes his team has the resources to begin administering additional COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as the state is able to provide them.

“As soon as I get them, people will get vaccinated and get their second doses, and if we get additional doses like we’re asking for, we will continue to help in the counties and in the rural areas that don’t have access to the hubs,” he said.

A photo of a COVID-19 vaccine distribution clinic through First Response Medical of Texas. (Photo of First Response Medical Facebook).

“It’s difficult times,” Reyes said. “But continue to register on those waitlists for the actual hubs. I hate to deter people from the smaller companies that are trying to do vaccinations, but I just feel like if you get on a waitlist somewhere, you have a better chance on one of those hubs and waitlist locations.”

Chris Van Deusen, the Director of Media Relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, explained to KXAN Sunday that DSHS has not been advising providers to use second COVID-19 vaccine allocations as first doses. Van Deusen’s assessment of the situation with First Medical Response is that there was a misunderstanding of the DSHS guidance.

“However, we’ll be able to make sure their patients can receive their second doses,” Van Deusen said. “The provider should be aware because we’ve been in touch with them recently about this.”

DSHS notes that you do not have to get your second COVID-19 vaccine dose from the same provider that you get your first dose from. The department said that providers should receive second doses from the state for those people they have administered the first doses to.

“However, if you need to locate a second dose, be sure it’s from the same manufacturer and after the recommended dose interval,” the DSHS website states. “For more information, refer to the vaccination materials you received from your provider when you received your first dose. Those may include a vaccination fact sheet and/or record card.”