Abbott Meets With Houston Methodist CEO On COVID-19 Vaccines, Snubs Turner and Hidalgo

Gov. Greg Abbott said Harris County leads Texas for COVID-19 vaccinations in a Tuesday event at Houston Methodist.
Gov. Greg Abbott and his top health advisers swung by Houston on Tuesday to meet with Houston Methodist CEO and president Dr. Mark Boom to talk about the statewide COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and to praise Houston Methodist for being the top vaccinator in all of Texas.

Abbott said that Harris County as a whole “has administered far more vaccines than any other county in Texas.” He cited Department of State Health Service statistics which show that as of Monday, 259,848 vaccine shots had been doled out in Texas’s most populous county, “almost double the amount” of vaccines given out by number two-ranking Dallas County so far.

“The number one vaccine administrator [and] provider in Texas is Houston Methodist,” Abbott said Tuesday,” which is a key reason why we wanted to be here today to say thank you for your leadership, and being the example for how swiftly this can be done in being a model for other providers across the entire state of Texas.

“All in all, we have vaccinated 77,000 people,” Boom said.

Conspicuously absent from Abbott’s Tuesday event were Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. In addition to snubbing the top two local elected officials in the Houston area, no representatives from the Houston Health Department or Harris County Public Health were present at Tuesday’s vaccine roundtable either. For a similar event last week at an Arlington vaccination center, Abbott invited Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, as well as local public health officials.

The only local elected official present at Abbott’s latest vaccine roundtable was Houston Democratic state Sen. Borris Miles, who did not address the media Tuesday.

Turner sarcastically tweeted that Abbott’s decision not to invite any city or county government representatives must have been some kind of oversight.

In an official statement issued just after Abbott’s event had wrapped up, Turner got a subtle jab in referencing the governor's opposition to Medicaid expansion in Texas, a policy that would have opened up significantly more funding for the healthcare needs of poor Houstonians of color who are at the highest risk of being hit hard by COVID-19.

“We welcome Governor Abbott to Houston Today. Houston is the largest city in Texas and America without Medicaid Expansion, meaning that the public health infrastructure will face extremely difficult challenges in assisting vulnerable communities when it comes to vaccinations,” Turner wrote.

“The Houston Health Department has been working tirelessly to vaccinate Houstonians. Both Houston Health and Harris County Public Health have the experience and a lot of insight to offer regarding vaccine distribution. We must work as a team and seek to be as inclusive as possible to get the job done,” Turner’s statement concluded.

When asked about the fact that no city of Houston nor Harris County officials were invited to Tuesday’s event, Abbott claimed it’s because the goal was to simply celebrate Houston Methodist for its status as the top vaccinator in all of the Lone Star State.

“We spend multiple days every single week talking to the local officials, whether it be the local public health officials, or the local officials themselves,” Abbott said, without mentioning Turner or Hidalgo by name, or the fact that they’re both prominent Democrats who have criticized Abbott for wresting away the power of local officials to issue strict coronavirus prevention rules in their communities.

On Friday, Abbott tweeted out stats from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on the progress of the nationwide vaccination effort that showed Texas has so far vaccinated more people than any other state, with 1,160,242 Texans having received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine at that time.

As of Tuesday, Abbott said that of the 1.7 million-plus vaccine doses that have been shipped to state health organizations, “1,358,678 of those doses have already been administered to Texans.” 177,193 of those are second doses, Abbott said.

Abbott claimed that “Overall, 78 percent of all doses allocated to the state have already been administered.” That stat doesn’t include the vaccinations for Texas nursing home residents being handled by CVS and Walgreens, Abbott said, who he criticized for not getting shots into elderly Texans’ arms fast enough — they’ve only administered 26 percent of the 487,500 doses provided for nursing home inoculations, he said.

When asked about whether Houston Methodist was prioritizing getting coronavirus vaccines out to the most vulnerable Houstonians, Boom said his hospital system was doing just that.

“We’ve identified zip codes that are more socially vulnerable, with lower socioeconomic status, high levels that are below the federal poverty line,” Boom said, “zip codes that are highly affected by COVID, and looked at some of those areas and essentially almost double-invite into those areas to try to drive vaccine uptake in those hard-hit areas as quickly as we possibly can.”

So far, demand for COVID-19 vaccines has far outpaced the amount of doses provided to the states by the federal government, which has led scores of qualifying Texans frustrated that they can't easily get access to the potentially life-saving treatment.

“The challenge we’ve been talking about is there’s not enough vaccine,” Boom said. “To give you an example, we opened up a link [for vaccine signups] about eight hours, we had 20,000 requests to be vaccinated.”

Abbott said that “This week, we are slated to receive our largest supply of vaccines” thus far: 333,650 first doses and 509,400 second doses. On Friday, 2,600 new vaccine appointment slots from the Houston Health Department were filled within just 16 minutes.

“We do expect to see ongoing increases in the number of doses available to us, but again, that depends on the federal government,” Abbott said.

As of Tuesday, 13,928 Texans were hospitalized due to COVID-19, thousands more than the 10,893 Texan coronavirus patients on July 22 at the peak of the state's deadly summer surge. More than 32,000 Texans have been killed by the virus.