The University of Texas Medical Branch and Galveston County Health District have been tasked with opening the county’s first two COVID-19 mass vaccination centers.
Although the two were notified over the weekend they would be local vaccination hubs, it’s unclear when local mass vaccination centers will open. Any large-scale vaccination efforts are still dependent on larger and more frequent shipments of vaccines, officials said.
“Right now, there’s still limited availability, so don’t expect a lot of change in the next week,” said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority.
The medical branch was similarly cautious about the designation and how fast it might lead to wider vaccine distribution.
“We are pleased to gain this designation and look forward to working with our partners in the region to vaccinate our patients and our community once supplies for mass vaccination efforts are received,” according to a statement released by the medical branch.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Saturday announced 51 hubs that will be centralized locations for people to get inoculated against COVID-19.
The new hubs are in addition to 28 announced last week.
Although the two local hubs were announced, little has changed about the plan to distribute vaccines this week.
The medical branch announced Friday it would receive 4,000 doses of COVID vaccines and would use them to inoculate people whose appointments had been canceled for lack of vaccine.
Appointments of more than 6,000 local people were canceled last week after the state unexpectedly diverted COVID-19 vaccines to large urban areas. The medical branch ran out of doses and couldn’t honor scheduled appointments.
The medical branch will honor those appointments with its new shipments, starting with the highest-risk people first, officials said.
The health district expects to receive about 1,000 doses this week, Keiser said. The hope is that, after being designated a hub, the district will continue to receive similar-sized shipments going forward, Keiser said.
“Hopefully, with the designation as a hub, what that means is that we will be getting regular allocation of vaccines, as things come out,” Keiser said. “Our goal this week is to take all that vaccine that they’re giving us and be done before they give our next allocation.”
As of Monday afternoon, 17,525 had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine and 3,469 people had been fully vaccinated.
The medical branch, which has received about 80 percent of all the vaccines sent to county facilities, has directed its allotments mostly to its own employees, other local health care workers and to its own patients who meet state qualification guidelines, officials said.
The opening of a hub model would seemingly open vaccinations to wider groups of people, particularly non-medical branch patients. In other cities, hub operators have used large public buildings, like Houston’s Minute Maid Park, to vaccinate people in large numbers.
Galveston County officials have begun discussing locations that could be used to as vaccination sites and have tentatively identified two distribution locations — one on Galveston Island and one in the north county, Keiser said.
The groups have a goal to create a web-based public vaccination sign-up program by Monday, officials said.
As of Monday, 23,801 people in Galveston County had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March. Of those, 16,862 had recovered and 213 had died, according to the health district.