Even with all the hiccups and frustrations surrounding the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, one thing is looking more clear: Galveston County is ahead of most others in Texas in terms of getting its residents vaccinated.
Nine weeks after the first local vaccinations were given to employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch, 1 in 20 Galveston County residents over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The vaccination rate makes Galveston County’s population one of the most-vaccinated counties in the state. Among Texas’ 20 most populated counties, only three — Lubbock, Cameron and El Paso counties — have completed vaccinations at a higher rate.
Galveston County residents are vaccinated at a higher rate than any of the other counties that surround Harris County.
Last week, the county also achieved a positive milestone: More people in the county have received at least one dose of COVID vaccinations since December than have been diagnosed with COVID since last March.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry credited the vaccination rate to the combined efforts of the county, the Galveston County Health District and the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“You can’t overstate their involvement too much,” Henry said of the medical branch. “They’ve been phenomenal. This is right down their alley. If you ever picked something bad to happen that UTMB would step up for, this is it.”
Henry also said the choice to use Walter Hall Park in League City as a mass vaccination site has worked out well. The county has been able to vaccinate thousands of people on some days in under four hours. At times, people going to receive their shots have been in and out of the site within five minutes, Henry said.
Health officials from Harris County and Fort Bend County have visited the League City vaccination site to observe the system that’s been developed there, Galveston County officials said.
Dr. Janak Patel, the director of infection control and health care epidemiology at the medical branch, said a large part of the success in vaccinating people in the county came from the months of planning the medical branch did before vaccines were available.
That planning was disrupted somewhat when state officials shifted vaccine distribution to a hub model in the middle of January. But now that program seems to be well established, Patel said.
“Every new process requires collaboration, planning and looking through problems and continuing to improve,” Patel said. “We now have a process that is working very smoothly.”
Local officials hope the number of vaccinations that have occurred in Galveston County so far can help convince state officials to send more of the vaccines to county providers in coming weeks.
In the months to come, vaccine production is expected to increase, and a third vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, could be approved for emergency use, officials said. Those things could speed up the rate at which people in Galveston County are being vaccinated.
There’s still a large demand for vaccinations, said Dr. Philip Keiser, the Galveston County Local Health Authority. More than 80,000 people are now on the waiting list for vaccinations through the county’s hub system, Keiser said.
“Our only limit right now is the amount of vaccine we have,” Keiser said.
County officials have a call planned with the Texas Department of State Health Services today. During the call, county officials expect to point to the high vaccination rate as part of an argument to get more vaccines shipped to the county in the weekly allocation sent by the state.
“What we want to express to the state is that we can handle more, if you think that’s the right thing to do,” Henry said.
For the past four weeks, the county has received about 6,000 doses of the vaccines between the shipments sent to the medical branch and the Galveston County Health District.
Galveston County’s success comes with some footnotes, officials said. The medical branch was among the first places in the state to receive vaccines because of its ability to store and preserve the sensitive Pfizer shots.
The county’s success also is measured against the limited supplies of vaccine in the state. As of Monday, Texas was 40th among 50 states in the number of people vaccinated per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alaska and West Virginia have the highest rates of vaccination, according to the CDC.