AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state of Texas delivered additional COVID-19 vaccine doses Tuesday to help a group of about 1,800 Central Texans who have been awaiting their second COVID-19 vaccine dose (with some waiting more than one month).
These Texans received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from First Medical Response of Texas (FMR), a company that worked as a standby ambulance service for large events but has pivoted to COVID-19 response work in the past year.
As KXAN reported Sunday, FMR said 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, which left around 1,800 people they had vaccinated without a second dose available.
On Sunday, a spokesperson for the Texas Department for State Health Services (DSHS) told KXAN they believed there had been a misunderstanding of DSHS guidance in that situation, and the department will “be able to make sure their patients can receive their second doses.”
FMR told KXAN it hadn’t heard any specifics from the state about when and how additional vaccine doses would arrive until Tuesday when it got a call from DSHS about its vaccine allocations.
Edwin Reyes, owner of First Medical Response of Texas, told KXAN his company went back and forth with the state on Tuesday.
“They advised they were able to allocate vaccinations to accommodate our second dose for everyone who was vaccinated for their first doses,” Reyes said, noting initially the state said the vaccines should arrive by next Monday. But another call from the state later in the afternoon alerted Reyes that the doses would be shipped Tuesday.
Wednesday morning, a shipment of 1,800 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived safely in the hands of FMR staff. Reyes said all of those will be administered as second doses for the patients they had already given first doses to.
FMR is working down the list of patients it has given vaccines to based on who got their vaccinations first to set up these second dose appointments. The first appointments for second doses will begin Thursday, Reyes said, and continue through this weekend and the following weekend.
FMR was not on the DSHS COVID-19 vaccination allocation list for this week. A spokesperson for DSHS told KXAN Wednesday evening these additional doses for FMR came from “this week’s pending second doses balance.” It turns out FMR was not the only COVID-19 provider who was confused about whether vaccines the state had sent to them should be used as first or second doses.
“There are a few other providers who made this mistake, and we are working with them to make sure that those patients get their second dose,” the spokesperson said.
Reyes, who has been trying to contact the state and lobby local lawmakers for help in getting these second doses, said he’s honestly not sure how it worked out for extra doses to become available for his company in the nick of time.
“I guess miracles happen,” he said. “I guess they were able to come up with our doses and give us that allocation.”
Reyes told KXAN, “obviously with you guys’ help and the help with the community and a couple of the [state] representatives, I’m assuming there was a big push for this to happen.”
He noted FMR requested in January for additional allocations of first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but his company hasn’t been approved for any of those requests yet.
‘This is broken process’
Larry Leibrock, a 72-year-old Lake Travis resident, got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from FMR in Dripping Springs on Jan. 2. He recalled that day, immediately after his vaccination, signing a form to be contacted when his second dose was available. Leibrock describes himself as a veteran with health issues and injuries from combat.
But for the following month, he received no updates from FMR or from DSHS (both of whom he had tried many times to contact). Leibrock said he called FMR many times, but the voicemail was full.
FMR explained they are getting hundreds of calls each day and trying to respond to as many as possible. In an email Monday, FMR directed Leibrock to its Facebook page where it had been posting vaccine updates.
“How am I supposed to know that he has been posting on Facebook?” Leibrock wondered aloud, noting he is not someone who spends time on social media. “How many Texans spend their day looking for vaccine information on Facebook? Not me, because it’s full of false information.”
For the past week, Leibrock has been contacting every health provider and pharmacy he can in an effort to get on waitlists for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Each one refuses to provide me with a second Moderna vaccine – all have stated that I must contact First Medical Response of Texas or Texas DSHS for advice about how to get the second Moderna,” he noted.
Monday, Leibrock even drove to a vaccine provider in Houston in hopes of getting a second dose but was met with the same answer.
“Where are the people who are responsible for the logistics of this system?” Leibrock said, exasperated. “I have to question, does our government really care?”
It has now been more than the recommended 28 days since Leibrock’s first COVID-19 vaccine shot. On Jan. 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance which said if the recommended number of days between doses was not possible, both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can have the second doses follow up to 42 days after the first dose.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Leibrock still had not been contacted by FMR about when he would receive his second dose. He drove around north of Austin to see if he could find a provider to help.
But by Wednesday evening, he got some welcome news: a confirmation email for his registration for a second COVID-19 shot with FMR on Friday. He is scheduled to receive his second dose 34 days after his first.
But Leibrock recognizes he is lucky, he is active and he has a lot of time on his hands to ferret out these vaccine logistics.
“I wonder about other people who are more elderly and more infirmed, how are they dealing with this?” he said. “This is a broken process.”
First Medical Response of Texas
If you have received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose from First Medical Response of Texas, the company advises you to be patient as it is working through its list of people who have been vaccinated one by one. Owner Edwin Reyes said if you have been vaccinated with the first dose by FMR but haven’t heard from them within 24 to 48 hours from now, email or call the company. The company plans on completing the first 1,000 second doses this weekend and then the rest of the doses the following week.
FMR went through the steps during the fall of 2020 to be approved as a COVID-19 vaccine provider in the state of Texas.
On Dec. 28, the company received its first allocation of 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from DSHS. The company offered vaccine clinics to people who qualified in the 1A and 1B vaccine phases, starting on Dec. 30 in Dripping Springs, Westlake and the San Marcos area. Reyes said the company ran out of vaccines by Jan. 3.
At that time, the current guidance from the CDC 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 CDC issued updated guidance which said 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 which arrived on Jan. 19 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.
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.
Since that time, Reyes has been fielding calls from hundreds of patients each day, concerned 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 left 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 FMR, though Reyes notes this was the last group his company vaccinated, so they will have more time to get their second doses.
While FMR was advising those who’ve gotten the first shot through the company to get on other waitlists for hubs like Austin Public Health, APH has said specifically it cannot administer the second COVID-19 vaccine to people who its department did not administer the first vaccine to.
In addition to the 1,800 individuals FMR has already provided one COVID-19 vaccine dose to, the company said there are an additional 7,000 people in the 1A and 1B phases on its 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.
DSHS notes 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 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.”