BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Some vaccine hubs are dealing with a side effect of expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility: a shortage of volunteers to administer them.
Last week, Austin-Public Health explained that staffing was one of their main challenges.
Now, vaccine sites in both Williamson and Bastrop counties say they’re also facing a volunteer shortage.
Family Hospital Systems, which operates the vaccine site at the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex for Williamson County, says they’ve been able to administer more than 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine there since mid-January.
“We need a certain number of volunteers to make sure that we’ve got all of our slots covered,” says Jen Stratton, Family Hospital Systems spokesperson.
For the first time, they don’t have enough of those volunteers this week: they’re 20 short for Tuesday.
“We will not cancel appointments there just might be a longer wait,” Stratton says.
It’s also a longer wait over in Bastrop County, where the health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes says they need between 60 to 100 people per clinic. Right now, she says they are down to about 36.
“It’s causing some backup in appointments in processing,” says Dr. Walkes.
She also says the volunteer shortage is forcing them to schedule fewer appointments.
Walkes says they’ve already enlisted the help of the Texas Division of Emergency Management but they may need to consider several smaller clinics instead of two to three larger ones per week.
Both Walkes and Stratton say they started to see fewer helping hands as vaccine eligibility expanded.
“When people were volunteering in the clinic, they were being characterized as people that were on the frontline, assisting with health care and so that was enabling them to be vaccinated,” Walkes says.
Now that the state opened up shots to all adults, it’s less of a motivating factor, she explains.
Walkes and Stratton also say they’re considering other incentives to sweeten the pot.
Stratton says they don’t know what that looks like yet for Williamson County, but says Bastrop County could end up paying people to volunteer.
“That is something that is on the table for consideration,” she says.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown says so far, they aren’t seeing a decrease in volunteers at the Circuit of Americas vaccination site, which requires about 600 people per day.
Brown says they’re working to give more doses to other groups for smaller distributions, like they did in Manor over the weekend.
“It’s the same thing, a smaller version but we’re trying to do that in several different locations around Travis County,” he says.
Vaccine appointments at COTA are still closed to the public and reserved mostly for CommUnityCare patients.
Brown says the health system has already started hiring for a few positions to allow for consistent staffing. He also says they are considering paying some portion of medical staff to be at COTA every week for consistency.
“I think that will be the biggest challenge in the coming months: staffing,” he says. “Not just of our efforts, but of the smaller clinics as well, because everyone around the country right now is trying to ramp up their vaccine efforts.”