Coronavirus

Houston Health Department Offers Walk-Up COVID-19 Vaccines As Pace Of Local Shots Slows

Starting Monday, anyone 18 and up can walk-in to any Houston Health Department vaccine site and get a shot.
Starting Monday, anyone 18 and up can walk-in to any Houston Health Department vaccine site and get a shot. Screenshot
It’s easier than ever to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Houston area, especially now that the Houston Health Department has opened up its multiple vaccination sites across town for walk-in appointments as of Monday.

Between the newly lax appointment requirements for city-provided vaccines and the decision to allow walk-up vaccinations at Houston’s federally-supported vaccine mega site at NRG Park as of April 19, it’s clear that local vaccine supply has already started to outpace demand for the shots.

The local vaccine supply will increase even more in the weeks ahead because Texas’ Department of State Health Services gave statewide vaccine providers its blessing on Saturday to once again administer the previously paused Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration declared its benefits outweigh its risks following an 11-day investigation into rare side effects.

The city health department announced Saturday that it would no longer require appointments for any of its vaccination clinics throughout Houston starting Monday. Health department officials also said that some of its locations will offer expanded hours to help accommodate those folks who can’t take off from their nine-to-five jobs in order to get a vaccine dose.

Since the locations of the city-run vaccination clinics and their hours will vary from week to week, the health department recommended visiting its COVID-19 vaccine website for an up-to-date list of clinics. Even though walk-ins are now allowed, the department still prefers that folks register ahead of time.

“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 should be easy and convenient for everyone, including people who may not be able to get to a vaccination site during typical business hours,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “Expanding the existing walk-in policy to all Houston Health Department sites and extending hours of operation will help ensure people have access to the life-saving vaccines.”

“Getting vaccinated is key to helping our lives get back to normal,” he continued.

The Houston Health Department also announced via its website that it will start using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine again in its vaccination program for homebound Houstonians starting this week.

Friday evening, the FDA and CDC both recommended that healthcare providers start giving out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine again after adding a new warning label that makes clear the risk of rare blood clots and the accompanying symptoms to look out for in the weeks following vaccination.

The FDA and CDC recommended pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine back on April 13 after six women between the ages of 18 and 49 who received the one-shot treatment were diagnosed with a rare combination of blood clots in the brain and low blood platelet counts. A CDC investigation into how widespread those side effects were discovered that an additional nine women out of the over 6.8 million U.S. residents who got that shot also suffered from the same combination of clots and low platelets. Three of the 15 women diagnosed with those two conditions ultimately died.

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement that her agency is “confident that this vaccine continues to meet our standards for safety, effectiveness and quality,” and that “the known and potential benefits of the [Johnson & Johnson] COVID-19 vaccine outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older.”

On Saturday, the Department of State Health Services followed the FDA and CDC’s leads and recommended that Texas vaccine providers get back to using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, giving state healthcare organizations the green light to begin ordering more doses of it to distribute in the weeks ahead. According to its announcement, the state health department has sent out guidance to Texas healthcare providers on how to treat the specific rare combo of blood clots and low platelet counts that may be tied to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

After announcing his department’s recommendation, DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “an important tool in our fight against COVID-19,” and said that “the scientific review over the last 11 days has affirmed its safety and effectiveness.”

“We know some Texans prefer the simplicity of a single-dose vaccine,” he continued, “and the ease of storing and handling this vaccine gives providers more flexibility. Resuming the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will prevent hospitalizations and save lives in Texas.”

As of Sunday, over 1.7 million Harris County residents had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over one million county residents were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Over 23 percent of Texans had been fully vaccinated as of Friday, as were almost 60 percent of Texans 65 or older and nearly 20 percent of Texans between 16 and 49 according to DSHS data.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards