AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly two-thirds of Travis County residents 65 and older are still waiting to be vaccinated, according to state data. Some of them are homebound, elderly Texans who are having trouble getting an appointment or even getting to a distribution site.
“I don’t want to cry here, because I don’t want her sitting in her own, you know, waste for one to three hours. This is what I’ve been told by others who’ve gone through the drive-thru complex,” Williamson County resident Kathleen Cain said, describing the difficulty she’s faced trying to get her 95-year-old mother vaccinated.
She wishes there was a simpler option for people this vulnerable, so her mother could avoid waiting in a long line — on foot or in a car.
The state has expanded the Save Our Seniors program, which sends members of the Texas National Guard to vaccinate people in their homes. The Texas Division of Emergency Management said they’ve vaccinated 18,000 individuals, prioritizing people in counties with fewer vaccine providers or with the least number of seniors vaccinated.
So far, the program has been expanded to reach 70 counties but has not been available in Travis, Williamson or Hays Counties.
“As the amount of vaccine allocated to the state from the federal government grows, this program will continue to be expanded to additional counties,” a spokesperson for TDEM said. “We have seen great partnerships at the local level, such as the partnership between the Corpus Christi Fire Department and Meals on Wheels, working to vaccinate vulnerable residents in communities across our state. We continue to encourage local officials to utilize partnerships with local service organizations/hospitals/public health departments, and vaccine they have been allocated, to vaccinate vulnerable residents in their communities.”
Williamson County’s “VaxMob,” the mobile vaccine strike team that has been used to vaccinate people at congregate settings and senior living homes, is now starting to vaccinate homebound seniors as well. A spokesperson for the county said they get referrals from a group called Opportunities for Williamson & Burnet Counties and the Williamson County and Cities Health District.
Austin Public Health leadership said they were not utilizing a van or vehicle to take shots directly to people but were instead leveraging community partnerships.
“We provided vaccines to people in the Housing Authority, to people that are seniors or are disabled. We were at about four of those complexes,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said in a news briefing on Friday.
Through these mobile vaccine efforts, APH had distributed just over a thousand doses of the vaccine.
Two weeks ago, APH officials told Commissioners Court and City Council they were in talks with a third-party vendor to enter a contract to provide truly “mobile” vaccinations through APH itself. However, in the Friday briefing, Hayden-Howard said they were instead working to expand operations through the organization Foundation Communities and partnership with Meals on Wheels to deliver shots to their homebound clients. They expect that partnership to launch next week.
“However, with only receiving 12,000 first doses a week, we can only expand so much,” a spokesperson for APH said. “Our hope is that as more vaccine becomes available — either through the State or through other providers — the mobile vaccination efforts can expand to reach those members of our community.”
Cain said she’s grateful to be able to help her mother obtain a vaccine, but she wishes elected officials and health experts managing the rollout had considered homebound people sooner.
“I don’t understand how you can open with [Phase] 1C, when you have all these elderly people who are home being taken care of by family members. I know other elderly people that are home alone that have health issues that haven’t even gotten appointments at all,” she said. “I just don’t understand the thought process behind this. ”