The Houston Health Department’s mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Minute Maid Park on Saturday was a success in that more than 6,000 area residents got their first dose of the potentially life-saving medicine. But logistical hiccups and a lack of on-site vetting allowed some Houstonians to skip the line and receive a shot without an appointment, and many residents who went through the correct process to make an appointment were sent away without getting a needle in the arm.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Thursday that the city health department would once again administer coronavirus vaccines at Minute Maid on Saturday for folks who had already secured an appointment, and said he hoped to open up additional Saturday vaccine appointments if the city got enough additional doses.
Sure enough, the health department opened up 2,600 more vaccination slots thanks to a new vaccine shipment the city received. HHD’s appointment signup website went live at 10 a.m. Friday morning; Just 16 minutes later, all the new slots had already been filled.
Come Saturday, the vaccine line sprawled around the building. Some local residents left prematurely, discouraged after waiting for multiple hours without receiving a vaccine. The city’s fears of people showing up without an appointment were realized, as some Houstonians were reportedly able to skip the line and receive a vaccine after health department workers and volunteers let folks through who said they didn’t have their department-provided confirmation code. Others who claim to have made it through the health department’s official online signup process said they never received confirmation emails.
Just before 6 p.m., HHD announced there were more people still waiting at Minute Maid than it had vaccine doses for on hand.
“The department is not able to accommodate the volume of people in line seeking the vaccine. Staff is taking names of people in line who have appointments to reschedule for a future date,” HHD’s Saturday night update read.
All told, HHD vaccinated 6,642 area residents on Saturday according to a statement Turner issued Sunday, exceeding the health department’s goal of vaccinating 5,000 people that day.
“Several factors appeared to have contributed to the long lines Saturday afternoon, and we are taking steps to address the issues,” Turner wrote.
“We will improve our appointment system to ensure people who register online receive confirmation of their appointment and better understand the process. We will also more thoroughly confirm confirmation numbers on-site so people without appointments can’t skip the line by claiming to have lost their number,” Turner wrote. “These adjustments will also help eliminate the potential for people to share their confirmation number with others.”
On Saturday, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that 79 “hub providers” across the state would be receiving vaccine shipments this week, an increase from the 28 vaccine hub providers it announced the week before.
HHD, Harris County Public Health and Houston Methodist Hospital were all on DSHS’s original list of hub providers in Harris County, and Memorial Hermann’s Memorial City Medical Center and UT-Health Houston were added to that list Saturday.
DSHS also added several new hub providers in counties surrounding the Houston area. It announced that Fort Bend County’s health department, Lone Star Family Health Center in Montgomery County, the Galveston County Health District and Galveston’s University of Texas Medical Branch Hospital will all receive vaccine doses this week.
The state health department still says that COVID-19 vaccinations are only authorized for Texans who are frontline healthcare workers, live in nursing homes, are 65 or older or are at least 16 and have one or more chronic medical conditions that put them at greater risk for getting a severe case of the coronavirus.
Turner explained that HHD will be contacting people who were still in line for a Saturday vaccine appointment who provided their contact information about scheduling a new appointment. He said that anyone who had a Saturday appointment but left without providing their name and phone number to the health department should call the HHD COVID-19 call center on Thursday to reschedule, and stressed that they would need to share their confirmation number in order to get a new appointment to prove they really were signed-up in the first place.
As of Sunday, HHD had received 30,950 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine since getting its first shipment in late December.
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