More than 14,000 people in Harris County are overdue for getting their crucial second COVID-19 vaccine shot, despite public health officials’ attempts to persuade folks who’ve received their first shot of a two-dose coronavirus vaccine how important shot No. 2 is in granting maximum coronavirus protection.
Those under-vaccinated residents coupled with their wholly unvaccinated neighbors are likely responsible in part for the summer Delta variant surge that’s left local hospitals scrambling to find space for patients and room for much needed surgeries when so many of their beds are filled up with COVID-19 patients. While local and statewide hospital capacity has started to recover in recent days, empty intensive care units are still extremely hard to come by in both greater Houston and across Texas.
As of Thursday, “a little over 14,000 people” have not received their second vaccine dose after 43 days, Harris County Public Health spokeswoman Martha Marquez told the Houston Press
, the maximum amount of time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wait after their first dose.
That represents 3.2 percent of Harris County residents who’ve received a first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine, and reflects vaccinations at any vaccine provider in the county. Zooming in to the city of Houston specifically, Houston Health Department public information officer Porfirio Villareal told the Press
that as of September 5, “6,204 people who received a first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at a Houston Health Department vaccination site are overdue for their second dose.”
“The average days overdue is 166,” Villareal said.
These 14,000-plus Houston area residents aren’t alone; As of early September, approximately 1.89 million Texans are overdue for their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine; over 1 million of those folks are more than 90 days late, according to Texas Department of State Health Services Data cited by the Texas Tribune
While one shot of a two-dose vaccine provides some protection against catching COVID-19, that single shot is dramatically less effective at preventing infections than when it’s followed up with the recommended second dose three to four weeks down the line, according to health experts.
Total COVID hospitalizations have fallen across Texas recently, but ICU beds remain scarce.
It’s no surprise given the number of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated Texans out there that hospital capacity is still an issue, especially when it comes to ICU beds. On September 8, a paltry 270 ICU beds were available in the entire state of Texas, the first time since COVID-19 hit Texas that the state’s ICU bed supply fell below 300 beds according to DSHS data. As of Thursday, there were 326 ICU beds staffed and ready to go statewide. Thankfully, total coronavirus hospitalizations across the state have continued to dip over the past several days but still remain at a level that’s straining hospitals and are still higher than the state’s first major surge last summer.
After hitting a Delta wave high of 13,928 on August 24, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations had fallen to 12,597 according to the latest data available Thursday morning. In the nine-county trauma service region that includes and surrounds Houston, there were 2,948 COVID-19 patients in area hospitals as of Thursday; Only 65 ICU beds were available at the time.
Given the increasing evidence that the protection granted by both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines begins to wane after five to six months, some medical experts have argued that second doses should be spread out and administered weeks or even months after the initially recommended three week wait time for Pfizer’s vaccine and the four week wait for Moderna dose No. 2.
But Harris County Public Health is still telling residents that they’re sticking with the current dosage guidelines n place from the CDC and the state health department. When asked if the county health department had changed its stance on the optimal timeline to receive a second vaccine dose, Marquez said it had not.
“No. We follow CDC guidance,” Marques said. “They do recommend three weeks for Pfizer and four weeks for Moderna, so that has not changed. We abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of State Health Services on that.”