AUSTIN (KXAN) — With overflow hospital opens at the Austin Convention Center and area intensive care unit space on the brink of being overwhelmed, getting vaccinations to Austin-Travis County residents remains the top focus for Austin Public Health.
Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott joined his fellow area health leaders to give the latest, as resident sign-up for vaccines begins — and reports circulate that some are cutting ahead in line.
As of Wednesday, the Austin-Travis County area reports 5,795 active cases, with 564 patients hospitalized and 180 patients in the ICU. There have been 56,825 total cases and 573 deaths.
Escott, along with Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden, Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette, Interim APH assistant director Cassandra DeLeon and Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett, will be part of the videoconference.
Hiccups with APH COVID-19 vaccination pre-registration launch
High demand for APH’s new vaccination pre-registration portal caused some technical difficulties on Wednesday.
Through the tool, people should be able to pre-register for a COVID-19 vaccine through Austin Public Health, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to get one right away.
If they are in the Phase 1A or 1B list — which includes healthcare workers, people over 65, and those with chronic medical conditions — they can pre-register right away. Viewers who acted quickly Wednesday morning told KXAN that Austin Public Health has already responded and some are getting vaccinated as early as Thursday.
A portal on the City of Austin’s website allows people to fill out a questionnaire to determine eligibility. If deemed eligible, APH will contact the person to set up an appointment for a vaccine shot. APH stresses that simply filling out the form doesn’t guarantee the person an appointment.
Despite the availability of vaccines, Hayden emphasized that there are not enough doses to go around and that the public should not stop mask wearing and following other health and safety guidelines.
“We simply cannot vaccinate ourselves out of this surge,” Escott reiterated. “Getting out of this surge will require all of us to work hard, make sacrifices and stay home.”
APH reports more than 20,000 people have already pre-registered.
People receiving vaccine ahead of others in higher priority groups
Reports that people who fall outside of priority groups just showed up and were vaccinated are true, APH confirmed.
“We had people that were in the line, that had stayed in the line. So out of a common courtesy, we decided to go ahead and provide that vaccine to them,” Hayden said. “We have to emphasize, going forward, that is not going to be the case.”
Hayden said in the future, these people will not be vaccinated and only provided information about how to schedule appointments.
APH said while these types of instances shouldn’t be happening, no vaccine will be allowed to go to waste — and people need to receive all their doses if they’ve already received one, regardless of their priority group.
“I understand that everyone is very eager, we are very excited that the vaccine is here in our community,” said Hayden. “But we must prioritize our elderly family members to ensure that we are taking care of them first. Please make them your priority.“
Why are vaccination sites located where they are?
The locations of these sites were intentional, according to Escott.
Austin Public Health has previously noted its intention to ensure equitable access to vaccines for communities of color, those in poverty, and hardest-hit communities.
“[The centers] were designed to be located in those areas,” Escott said. “…Areas that have been incredibly disproportionately impacted.”
APH says these same communities are being prioritized for antibody treatments.
Alternate care site
APH’s alternate care site is now open and taking patients, who are expected to arrive later Wednesday.
“That fact alone — that we are taking patients and we are housing patients in the Convention Center, shows that our hospitals are overwhelmed. That should drive home how serious we are right now with this situation,” said Pickett.
The facility, which was set up over the summer, wasn’t needed until now. This site is intended to only be used for patients who need to be hospitalized but at a lower level of care.
The site is set up to initially take 25 patients, all by way of hospital referrals, but can be configured to take up to 250 in its current footprint or eventually as many as 1,000.
Meanwhile, plans for a mass vaccination site in Austin-Travis County, like the one now operating in Arlington, are set to be announced soon. As of right now, smaller sites in the area are able to administer about 2,000 vaccines per day.