COVID-19 vaccines will soon resume flowing into Galveston County, but after a week of scheduling and supply turmoil, officials said they still were short on details about timing and availability.
The University of Texas Medical Branch announced Friday it was scheduled to receive 4,000 vaccine doses in coming days, while the Galveston County Health District announced it would receive an allocation of 400 doses.
The announcements come days after local officials announced they had run out of vaccines and complained they had been shorted on expected supplies by changes in the state’s vaccinations plan.
Even with a promise of new vaccinations coming, it was unclear when they would arrive, officials said.
The Galveston County Health District learned Thursday it would receive a shipment of 400 doses, district spokeswoman Ashley Tompkins said.
“We do not have it in hand and we do not know when it’s going to be here,” Tompkins said.
Vaccinations in the county came to an abrupt halt this week after state officials directed shipments to locations in large urban centers, instead of suburban and rural counties.
The shift in the state’s program led the medical branch to cancel more than 6,000 vaccination appointments. People who had been anticipating starting their vaccinations this week were told it was now unclear when their appointments would be rescheduled.
The arrival of 4,000 new doses of vaccines to the medical branch will not cover all of the people who had their appointments postponed, medical branch spokesman Christopher Smith Gonzalez said. The medical branch will begin reaching out to people who had their vaccinations postponed, starting with those who are considered at highest risk, Smith Gonzalez said
This week’s priority shift drew objections from and caused frustration among local leaders, who complained about the unpredictability of vaccine shipments. During the four weeks vaccines were shipped to the county, local distributors have received as few as 1,500 doses and as many as 6,250.
In some weeks, only one location in the county has received a new shipment of vaccines; in other weeks as many as nine locations received shipments, according to state records.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to move more cities toward a vaccination hub model such as being used in Houston and Arlington. It was unclear whether the latest doses for Galveston County would be distributed in a centralized fashion.
Similarly, President-elect Joe Biden announced on Thursday evening he planned to deploy FEMA and the National Guard to build vaccination clinics around the country. Biden said he wanted 100 million Americans to be vaccinated within his first 100 days in office.
What mass vaccinations would look like in the county isn’t clear, but it’s being discussed.
County officials held a call this week with city leaders and hospital officials to discuss places in the county that might be used as mass vaccination sites — such at the cruise terminals at the Port of Galveston or other large buildings. As of Friday, however, no plans had been announced.
The medical branch plans to have a system in place for people to sign up for vaccination appointments by Jan. 25, Smith Gonzalez said. The system will allow people to sign up for vaccination appointments as long as they qualify under the state’s current eligibility guidelines, Smith Gonzalez said.
The timing of the actual start of public vaccinations will depend on the national vaccine supply, he said.
As of Friday, 15,749 county residents, about 4 percent of the county’s population over the age of 16, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. The county’s rate is higher than the statewide vaccination rate of 3.96 percent of people being vaccinated.
Public health officials have said the goal is to vaccinate 70 percent or more of the population against the virus. Officials have said that it could take between 12 weeks and 18 weeks to complete vaccinations within the current current group of eligible people.