As demand for COVID-19 vaccinations falls off in Galveston County, public health officials are starting to abide by a new mantra:
If the people aren’t coming for the vaccines, bring the vaccines to the people.
Galveston County’s vaccination hub at Walter Hall Park in League City will provide pre-scheduled vaccinations to people for the last time on Saturday and then be shut down for good, officials said.
The hub has been symbolic of vaccination efforts in the county, helping to vaccinate tens of thousands of people in just over three months and helping to fully inoculate 38 percent of county residents older than 16 years of age as of Thursday.
The end of the hub doesn’t mean vaccinations are ending in the county. Instead, efforts will move to smaller venues.
Some of those venues are expected.
For instance, the Galveston County Health District in Texas City will open a permanent one-day-a-week vaccine clinic in its offices going forward. The clinic is mostly focused on getting second-dose Moderna vaccines to people who may have missed an appointment elsewhere, but it also will offer first doses to people who want them.
But vaccines also are appearing in unexpected places, like on board a replica of the Santa Maria, one of the ships that Christopher Columbus used to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
On Thursday, the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Violence Prevention delivered a batch of vaccines to the ship, a floating museum that is making a stop at the Port of Galveston. The center, in partnership with the Galveston County Health District, held a pop-up vaccine clinic to get doses of Moderna vaccines to people who work in and around the port.
Fishermen, shrimpers and ship crewmen were invited to get vaccinated at the Galveston Seafarers Center in the morning.
The event was designed to appeal to people who might have had excuses to not get in line for a vaccine yet. The center provided translators and vaccine information in multiple languages and didn’t ask for identifications as part of its process.
“We’ve been outreaching for a couple of weeks now, going to the docks, going to the port, letting people know they can come here,” said Shannon Guillot-Wright, the center’s director of health policy research. “There’s no ID required, they didn’t need to register. Basically, we were just trying to take away the barriers.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the event.
Like many local vaccination efforts of late, the demand for a shot was slow. In the first half hour of the event, only about five people walked into the downtown Galveston building.
So, when the team of vaccinators learned that the crew of the Nao Santa Maria wanted vaccinations, the team lugged a cooler of shots over to the dock.
It’s not the first time that the health district’s team had hit the bricks to deliver vaccines. At times recently, nurses have gone to door to door through business parks in Friendswood and other communities, offering people a chance to get a shot, out of the blue.
The reception to those offers have been mixed, officials said. Many people have indicated they’ve already been vaccinated. Others have admitted they’re just not interested in getting the vaccinations that were once in such high demand.
There are widespread reports about why people might avoid the vaccines, either because of politics or distrust or a lack of information, said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority.
Lower-vaccinated communities in Galveston County don’t fit into a pat explanation about politics, Keiser said.
While some lower-vaccinated neighborhoods can be found in west Galveston County, where voters are traditionally more conservative, vaccination rates also are lower than average in bluer areas, like the east side of Texas City or neighborhoods north of Broadway in Galveston.
“The number of people who are getting the vaccines has dwindled,” Keiser said. “We don’t just want to give up. What we’re trying to do is find those places that are either in need or have not turned out and have a bunch of small things.”
But small events means slower progress on getting vaccination numbers up to the 70 percent or higher vaccination rate officials hope to eventually achieve. Health officials have lowered their goals on what a good day looks like in terms of getting shots into arms, Keiser said.
“If we get 100 people, that’s great,” Keiser said. “But every day we have to be somewhere, doing something.”