Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Friday that the county has launched a coronavirus vaccine sign-up website. Starting Friday, county residents can sign up for one of 55,000 vaccine appointments available from Harris County for the week of April 19th on ReadyHarris.org or by calling 832-927-8787.
“You will pick a date, a time and a location, so you no longer have to be on a waiting list,” said Hidalgo. Previously, county residents could add themselves to a list of folks interested in getting vaccinated, from which names were randomly selected with preference given to older county residents and those from local zip codes hardest hit by COVID-19.
Since March 29, all adults in Texas have been eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine. Texans ages 16 and 17 are restricted to the Pfizer shot, since Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only approved for use in those 18 and up.
As of Wednesday, 25.2 percent of local residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Harris County Public Health, which Hidalgo cautioned is still quite far off from the 70 percent threshold many experts think a given community must get to at the very least to have some semblance of herd immunity.
“We still have a ways to go, and this is our only way out of COVID,” she said.
Dr. Maria Rivera from the county health department said that the increased number of vaccinations and local improvements in coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations in recent weeks shouldn’t cause residents to think that coronavirus safety precautions are no longer necessary.
“We know that cases have been going down in Harris County, but we’re definitely not out of this pandemic,” Rivera said. “We’re seeing increases across the state of Texas. We’re seeing increases across the country, and we don’t want that to happen in our county.”
Hidalgo implored county residents to take advantage of the new, quicker way to get vaccinated by the county. She explained that part of why the county felt confident enough in its future vaccine supply to start offering appointments is because county officials are “beginning to see an end to the rush of demand for vaccines that we’ve had for the past few months.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why we’re there now, but we have some theories,” Hidalgo said. “Some of it is vaccine hesitancy. There are studies that show that up to 40 percent of the population feels a little hesitant about getting the vaccine. Some of it is the misinformation that’s been spreading on social media.”
“Part of it, of course, may be community concerns stemming from the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has now had to be paused,” she continued.
The county health department is currently offering both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at its vaccination sites, as Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are still paused locally due to the recommendation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, after six of the more than 6.8 million recipients of that particular vaccine came down with a rare combination of blood clotting in the brain and low blood platelet counts.
Hidalgo stressed that just because the county is letting anyone sign up for a vaccine appointment doesn’t mean her office isn’t focused on increasing the equitable distribution of shots to all county residents, especially Black and Hispanic residents whose communities have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
“We’re continuing to send our mobile units into the zip codes that have the lowest vaccination rate and the highest impact for COVID,” she said. Hidalgo also mentioned that the county is offering free rides to vaccine appointments to any residents who say they have transportation challenges when they register, and that the county continues to partner with community organizations who focus on low-income and minority communities to keep getting shots to those in greatest need.
“What we’re trying to communicate right now is we’re at an urgent time, an urgent turning point, and we ask you not to let your guard down, to do your part to get us past this virus,” Hidalgo said.
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