Lacking state or federal direction, Texans scramble on their own to find COVID-19 vaccines

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texans part of the state’s Phase 1B for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout are frustrated and concerned they cannot find a vaccine provider who has the COVID-19 vaccine available for them.

The frustration comes a day after the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner called on vaccine providers to ‘immediately vaccinate’ healthcare workers, Texans over the age of 65 and people with certain medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19.

The state’s vaccine dashboard shows less than a third of the 668,000 doses it received have been administered.

Texans share their concerns

The call to speed up vaccinations has created confusion for providers while eligible Texans seek protection against a virus that’s already killed 27,000 people in the state.

“My parents are both in their 70s. They both help taking care of my children. My wife is a school teacher, so it puts them at high risk for contracting COVID-19,” said Steven Franco. “When we heard about the opportunity to get them vaccinated; it gave us peace of mind.”

Franco spent nearly his entire morning Wednesday calling around to local pharmacies listed on DSHS’ vaccine provider list, only to find none of them were offering the vaccine to people in Phase 1B yet.

“It feels like the state has kinda dangled this in front of us,” said a KXAN viewer, who wished to remain anonymous. “None of the providers listed are able to vaccinate 1B.”

KXAN has heard from several viewers like the one above who are receiving the same response from pharmacies across the area.

Jackie Hires of Bee Cave started his Tuesday with a feeling of excitement — he could now get the COVID-19 vaccine after the state expanded eligibility to include patients who are over 65 or have underlying health conditions.

“I’ve said all along that as soon as I can get the vaccine, I want to take it, because I want everything to get back to normal,” Hires, who turned 65 in August, told KXAN.

But he was told by pharmacy after pharmacy they weren’t ready to vaccinate Phase 1B populations in addition to healthcare workers, who were first in line.

“It was a letdown,” Hires said. “I’m thinking, how are we going to get vaccinated if we can’t ever get an appointment?”

Pharmacies explain why they may not be ready

“Healthcare workers, EMS, 911 and staff are still getting vaccinated. We are accepting Phase 1B, and we are starting to schedule those, but I talked to our operation team, and we still have 1,000 backlogged healthcare providers, EMS and physicians in the community,” said Dr. Anas Daghestani CEO at Austin Regional Clinic.

Daghestani says Austin Regional Clinic’s website crashed Wednesday because of the amount of people trying to register to get the vaccine. ARC received 7,000 doses in its first round and say they’re more than half way through them. H-E-B pharmacies say they’re in the same boat.

“I personally feel like at my site, we have quite a few workers in Phase 1A that we need to get immunized first,” said Lauren Clark, H-E-B pharmacist.

An interactive map developed by DSHS shows healthcare providers that have received a shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine, but acknowledges “not all providers are vaccinating the public or people in all priority groups.”

Clark suggested it’s possible some of the more rural communities could start vaccinating those in Phase 1B sooner.

“At that point they may feel confident, in moving to phase 1B because they may feel confident they’ve been able to get all their doses out to medical workers,” said Clark.

As long as the demand for healthcare workers remains high, others are on hold for now.

St. David’s HealthCare also issued this statement:

“While we acknowledge that the state has opened eligibility for adults over the age of 65 and those with specific chronic conditions over the age of 16 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, our current vaccine supply only allows for vaccinations for our employees and doctors at this time,” the statement said.

Lawmakers give update on rollout

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, told KXAN the number of available vaccine doses is likely overblown because of challenges with the state’s I.T. infrastructure.

“It’s created kind of a logjam and a lot of frustration for people all with the good intention of ensuring that all of the vaccines that we have out there actually get administered,” Howard said. “It would certainly be advantageous if we had better upfront information about what was available, where and who could actually be eligible for the vaccine.”

Howard said some supply issues have been caused by delays over the holidays. While she’s hopeful the rollout will be smoother soon, state agencies have indicated next week’s vaccine shipment will be smaller than those in the first three weeks.

KXAN made multiple requests for an interview with the Texas DSHS about the vaccine rollout confusion but did not receive a response. The department did send a statement Wednesday night, saying vaccine shipments are coming in weekly, and they want to administer all of the doses received to Texans each week.

In the statement, DSHS said vaccine supplies may be limited, but it still wants those eligible for the vaccine and interested in getting it to continue to check in with providers on their availabilities.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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