Dozens of homebound people in Galveston County received their second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations last week thanks to a group of University of Texas Medical Branch nurses.
The nurses, who work in the medical branch’s geriatric house call program, last week hit slushy roads in subfreezing temperatures to get shots in arms.
“We gave vaccine by flashlights inside people’s homes, because they have no power,” said Jennifer Young, a nurse practitioner who works in the medical branch’s program for homebound elderly residents.
During the freeze, the nurses weren’t just delivering shots. Amid the blackouts and weather-damaged pipes bursting, nurses delivered water, blankets, coffee and breakfast tacos, Young said. In one case, Young even helped arrange for someone to go to a patient’s house to turn off the water.
“It was a privilege to go out and help people,” Young said. “We had the resources and we were actually able to make a difference. We were giving people exactly what they needed at that time.”
The drive to get vaccines to homebound people is part of a wider effort to get direct vaccinations to underserved and more vulnerable parts of the county’s population — people who might have trouble getting to vaccination hubs or even getting information about them.
“A lot of people, because they aren’t Internet savvy or they don’t have smartphones, aren’t able to get into a mad rush to get into the clinic or even get an appointment,” Young said.
The geriatric home care program existed before the pandemic and provides primary health care to about 260 patients around Galveston County. About two months after the first vaccines arrived in Galveston County, the nurses began making house calls with doses.
“It was just normal for us to reach out and say, ‘What about our patients?’” said Tammie Michael, a nurse practitioner who manages the house call program. “We felt they were in a special situation where they needed to be advocated for to get these vaccines.”
More than 15,000 Galveston County residents had, as of Tuesday morning, been fully vaccinated against the virus. About 10 percent of the county’s population over age 16 had been vaccinated. Galveston County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state.
The homebound delivery program began before the big freeze. Earlier this month, the home care nurses made a first round of deliveries during much more agreeable weather.
But the lack of ice on the roads doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges. Because of the perishable nature of the vaccines, the nurses needed to plan a route that got them to patients quickly.
The nurses had about eight hours, tops, to deliver dozens of vaccines around the county and had to transport the vaccines in a light-sensitive and refrigerated carrier.
With the help of a computer-generated map of the fastest route from house to house, the medical branch nurses made it to each of their destinations with time to spare, Young said.
With the world back to some semblance of normalcy, the medical branch plans to expand the program to include homebound people who receive care from places other than the medical branch, officials said.
People hoping to get on the medical branch’s list for house calls for homebound patients can email Geri.HouseCalls@utmb.edu.