AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas opened registration for the COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 16 years or older Monday, and with the move, the state launched a website to help people sign up to get it.

The Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler is another way people can sign up to be on a waitlist to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Users create a profile with basic personal and contact information, and then answer a few screening questions to determine priority like if you’re a first or last responder, work in a hospital or if you have a pre-existing condition.

Once you’re done, you can select preferred days of the week and either a morning or afternoon appointment, and the system will do its best to match you with your preferences at a vaccine site near your address. You can pick between receiving a text message or email to be notified when you’ve been matched with an appointment time.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Nancy Ejuma, DSHS Deputy Associate Commissioner in the Division for Regional Health Operations, said the website will also ask if you are looking for a first or second dose and which vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) you got, so it can match you appropriately with a provider that has that type of dose.

Wait times are possible as the site handles the high volume of traffic.
Wait times are possible as the site handles the high volume of traffic.

If the state’s site has too much traffic, you will get sent to a waiting room. It will tell you that you are in line, ask you not to refresh or close your browser, and it should give you an estimated wait time.

Ejuma explained everyone can sign up on the website regardless of if they’re eligible yet or not. The website will notify people who are not eligible when their status changes. This is mainly for those who are under the age of 16.

The website will also notify those registered of available appointments within their time preferences and vaccine clinics in the area. Vaccine providers are able to use the platform to enter in details for any vaccine event.

If you need any additional support, DSHS asks that you call its Texas Vaccine Support Center at 1 (833) 832-7067. It is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday.

Texas Department of State Health Services runs the site, and even after signing up for the waitlist, the state recommends and encourages people to keep looking at other ways to get the vaccine. It has a map of state providers. DSHS also said this registration site will not replace other COVID-19 vaccine waitlists already open for pharmacies, public health departments, medical practices, etc. They will continue running their websites.

The state expects vaccine dose supply to go up. Texas will get more than 1 million doses this week.

DSHS says it is allocating 818,410 doses to 779 providers in 202 counties. More than 200,000 additional first doses will go to pharmacy locations and federally-qualified health centers.

The state is ordering 587,950 doses intended as a second dose.

Vaccine supply expected to increase

DSHS held a press conference Monday afternoon to update the public on vaccine rollout efforts in the state.

Associate Commissioner of Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services Imelda Garcia, MPH, said now is the “right time” to be opening vaccines to all adults as vaccine supply is expected to increase.

“Our federal partners tell us that will be coming will further increase in April,” Garcia said.

This is due to the anticipation that vaccine makers AstraZeneca and Novavax will file for emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next month.

Garcia explained some vaccine providers are nearing the end of their waitlists and have reached the priority groups signed up with them. Demand has also decreased in some areas, and Garcia said they’re working with providers who may have extra inventory to get those doses used up or transported to another provider.

While vaccine eligibility is now open to more of the general population, she encourages providers to still prioritize older adults and those with medical conditions.

Improving virus data

The coronavirus data for Texas is promising, DSHS said. Garcia explained we’ve made “remarkable progress” in reducing new cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus over the past two to three months. However, it’s not yet time to let down our guards or stop using masks and social distancing.

“We’re still in a race against the virus, and particularly the variant strains that are circulating that we know spread more quickly and could cause more severe disease,” Garcia said.

DSHS said there were about 500 variant cases of the coronavirus detected in Texas, with the majority of them being the United Kingdom variant, or B.1.1.7.

Vaccination stats for Texas

Garcia gave out some numbers on where we are in the vaccine rollout as of Monday:

  • 1 million first doses coming this week, 1.75 million doses allotted altogether including second doses
  • 10.6 million doses total administered so far
  • More than 7 million people vaccinated over the weekend
  • 7.1 million vaccinated with at least one dose
  • 3.75 million fully vaccinated
  • Close to a third of all Texans 16 years and up have gotten at least one shot
  • Close to 1 in 6 are fully vaccinated now
  • Seniors: Two-thirds have gotten at least a dose, 43% are fully vaccinated

Garcia said depending on the research you look at, herd immunity is achievable in most cases when 70 to 90% of a population is vaccinated. Whether or not that applies to Texas or if the state can reach that threshold is not yet known. She said research and studies are also still ongoing to determine how long the natural immunity from getting COVID-19 really lasts.