Patience is the word from government and health officials to those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination.
“It really is about availability right now,” said Dr. Jules Madrigal, the Burnet County Local Health Authority. “There were only a few places in Burnet County that have received any vaccines, like H-E-B and Atkins (Pharmacy), and they’ve used all they have.”
In December, the state of Texas began receiving doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the federal government. State leaders and health officials developed a distribution plan using a phased approach.
Texas is currently in Phase 1 due to a very limited supply of vaccines. Initially, only those classified under Phase 1A eligibility, including front-line healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and first responders coming into direct contact with people could be vaccinated. The state then opened vaccinations up to people in the Phase 1B category, which includes residents 65 and older as well as those 16 and older with certain underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk of dying if they contract the virus that causes COVID-19.
Locally, however, Madrigal said most of the vaccines have gone to those in the Phase 1A category, and even that has been limited.
“Right now, I don’t know of any of our nursing homes or long-term care facilities that have gotten the vaccine, and they definitely need it,” she said. “I spoke with one (long-term care facility) the other day, and they think they’ll begin getting vaccinated maybe, at the earliest, the 15th (of January).
“And that’s just too long,” she added.
Ascension Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet and Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Marble Falls along with three pharmacies received shipments during the second allotment of vaccines distributed across the state. Altogether, 1,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine have arrived in Burnet County.
Ascension Seton Highland Lakes has vaccinated its staff as well as other local medical personnel. On Dec. 29, Kevin Atkins of Akins Pharmacy vaccinated Marble Falls Fire Rescue crew members and other first responders, including members of the Granite Shoals Police Department.
“We still have a ways to go with this disease, but I’d say the vaccine and getting it means there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Marble Falls Fire Rescue Chief Russell Sander.
Due to officers’ contact with the public, Granite Shoals Police Chief Gary Boshears said it’s important they be vaccinated.
“Officers are in contact with people every day, and we don’t get the choice who we are in close contact with,” he explained. “So, this is a way to keep our officers and the public safe.”
Vaccinating front-line healthcare workers, first responders, and long-term care facility staff and residents has been a huge undertaking, both statewide and locally.
With the state allowing those in the Phase 1B category to be vaccinated, even more pressure was put on pharmacies, hospitals, and doctor’s offices.
Madrigal said many pharmacies are fielding calls from people wanting to know when and where they can get a vaccine. Her own office takes countless calls each day.
“Unfortunately, all those calls means pharmacies are taken away from other things they need to be doing,” she said. “It’s the same way at my office. Answering the phone all the time means my staff and I aren’t serving our patients.”
Madrigal understands people want the vaccine — and she appreciates their earnest desire to get it — but with a limited state allotment and a large demand, there’s just not enough right now to vaccinate everyone in the Phase 1A and 1B categories.
“Here in Burnet County, our Walgreens and CVS (pharmacies) haven’t received any vaccines,” Madrigal said. “When they do, they’re mandated to vaccinate nursing homes. There’s just not a lot of vaccines out there yet.”
She pointed out that the state depends on shipments from the federal government and then disperses those across Texas. Local healthcare facilities and pharmacies are at the mercy of the government.
Another point to remember is both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses. So, those people who have received a first dose must also get a second round. For Moderna recipients, that comes 28 days after the first shot.
The Texas State Department of Health Services recommends those in Phase 1A who want a vaccine contact their employer. Those in the Phase 1B category should refer to a map of vaccine providers.
Officials pointed out that people can’t just show up at one of the providers expecting to be vaccinated. They recommend checking the provider’s website first to see if it is vaccinating people in Phase 1B.
Baylor Scott & White Health facilities across the state, including in Marble Falls, have received a total of 26,825 vaccine doses as of Jan. 1. However, the healthcare provider has 49,000 employees and 7,300 active physicians and is making sure all of those individuals are vaccinated.
“As the state’s largest not-for-profit health system, our first responsibility to the community is to safeguard the caregivers Texans are dependent upon,” said Dr. Alejandro Arroliga, chief medical officer for Baylor Scott & White. “We are committed to transparency throughout this process so the communities we serve have the latest information as we near the eligibility to being segments of the public most at risk.”
Baylor Scott & White set up a notifications system to alert people in Phase 1B when the healthcare system will begin scheduling vaccinations for them.
Texas isn’t the only state struggling through the COVID-19 vaccination process. Other states are reporting long lines and limited supplies. State health officials added that they don’t expect the vaccine to become available to the general public until the spring, depending on current vaccine production and if other vaccines become available.
Madrigal asks that people keep all of this in mind.
“Trust me. When more vaccines are available and we can begin getting them to people (in Phase 1B), I’ll let you know,” she said. “I want to get people vaccinated as quick as possible, too. Right now, though, we just don’t have enough vaccines for everyone.”