Editor's note: Reminder that you are still required to make an appointment ahead of time for any of these vaccination events. Once the health department approves your request it will issue you a confirmation number that you should bring with you to your appointment time.
If you’re one of the thousands of Houstonians lucky enough to have received a shot of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine from the Houston Health Department since it kicked-off public vaccinations to those who qualify on January 2, you’re probably feeling a combination of emotions.
There’s the obvious excitement about being on the road to 94 percent immunity from this sorry disease that’s had the world in a headlock for the past ten months, but there’s also the uncertainty of when, where and if you’ll be able to get the second shot of the vaccine four weeks after dose number one, which is required to gain the maximum level of protection.
At the city's Bayou City Event Center vaccination site Monday, different health department workers gave different answers about how the second dose signup process would work. One nurse said to go to a website link written on the back page of the vaccine information packet each patient was given. Another said to expect a call from the health department to schedule the second shot about two weeks before the due date 28 days after shot one. Yet another worker said the call would come within a couple days of the that 28-days-later date.
Since HHD only received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine on December 28, less than 28 days ago, it’s likely that the health department hasn’t actually had to administer any second doses yet, which might be why no one on the ground seemed to know for sure what the process would look like. But according to city officials, there is a plan in place for how HHD will handle those follow-up appointments, even if word hasn't trickled down to the frontline vaccine clinic workers.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Monday that area residents who got their first vaccination dose from the city health department don’t need to worry about scrambling to schedule an appointment for the second dose.
“You don’t have to contact the Houston Health Department for that second dose. The Houston Health Department will automatically be contacting you and giving you those instructions,” Turner said.
Porfirio Villareal, a spokesman for HHD, gave the Houston Press some additional details about how that process will work.
“A Houston Health Department employee will call people who have received a first dose to schedule the second dose,” Villareal said, which he confirmed should happen “4 or 5 days before the due date” if all goes according to plan.
For the Moderna vaccine (the only version being offered by HHD), Villareal explained that the required second dose should be given “28 days after receiving the first dose,” but that there’s a little bit of flexibility on that front as well.
“There is a four day grace period for the Moderna vaccine that we are offering,” Villareal said, which means “people can receive the vaccine four days before or after the 28 [day] due date” and still eventually gain the full 94 percent protection it provides.
Villareal also said that the city health department will receive specific allotments of second dose shots “during the week that they are due” in addition to shots designated for first doses.
Along with Houston Methodist hospital system and Harris County Public Health, HHD was chosen by the Department of State Health Services to be one of Texas’s “hub providers,” which means DSHS thinks the local health department has proven it can put the infrastructure in place to get vaccine shots into people’s arms quickly. Gov. Greg Abbott said on Monday that these hub providers will be receiving a higher percentage of the available vaccine doses going forward.
Meanwhile, Turner and HHD Director Dr. Stephen Williams are frustrated by the unpredictability of state vaccine deliveries, and said that’s been a big factor in why the city hasn’t been able to get multiple large-scale vaccination centers up and running yet.
Williams said in Monday’s city press conference that the city was expecting a batch of 8,000 new vaccine doses to arrive at the beginning of this week, but that it surprisingly arrived last Friday instead. Now, Turner said the city is trying to figure out whether or not that vaccine shipment was what DSHS was referring to in a weekend press release that said HHD was being sent more doses, or if there’s another 8,000 shot shipment coming at some point this week.
“We don’t know whether or not we’re gonna get another shipment this week, or whether or not that 8,000 that they sent to us on Friday was intended for this entire week,” Turner said. “If that’s the case,” he said, the city would run out of doses by week’s end.
The city's vaccination ramp-up efforts are coming during one of the worst periods of the local pandemic. As of Tuesday, 22.83 percent of Harris County hospital patients were COVID-19 patients, and Houston Independent School District announced Tuesday that it's postponed all student athletics outside of high school district games due to the rapidly rising coronavirus cases Harris County has seen following the holiday season.
On Saturday, HHD vaccinated 3,852 people at Minute Maid Park, which Turner said “does indicate that we can do mass distribution in a very efficient way,” as long as the doses are available. Turner said the city’s goal “is to set up two mega-sites” for high-volume vaccine administration, one on the north side of town and one on the south side.
Turner said that HHD won’t turn anyone away from city-run vaccination sites as long as they qualify under DSHS’s vaccine priority rules, even if they don’t live in Houston. As of now, the state has authorized vaccinations for frontline healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff, Texans 65 or older and people 16 and up with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at extra risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The city is in the process of setting everything up so the two mega-sites the mayor is envisioning can get up and running quickly, “But whether or not they will be activated will depend on whether or not we get additional shipments,” Turner said.
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