After mass cancellations of vaccination appointments and frustrations about local vaccine shortages, a lesson has emerged for health care providers, the University of Texas Medical Branch’s top leader said Tuesday.

The key to ensuring vaccination efforts run smoothly is to ensure there are enough vaccine doses to go around, said Dr. Ben Raimer, interim medical branch president.

“We’ve learned that the hard way,” Raimer said. “You don’t hang out your shingle unless you can deliver.

“If you say you can do such-and-such, you should do such-and such, or else don’t do it at all,” he said. “I think that’s what we need both the state and federal government to do.”

During the six weeks COVID-19 vaccines have been available in Texas, the medical branch has administered at least one shot to more than 15,000 people, officials said Tuesday. That’s equivalent to 84 percent of all the vaccinations that have occurred in Galveston County to date.

But while thousands have been vaccinated, the local effort also has caused frustration, as supplies were directed away from the county to large cities and many people struggled to find local providers who could schedule them for vaccination.

During a town hall discussion about vaccinations at the medical branch on Tuesday, Raimer said he understood the anger people had about vaccine availability.

Raimer called the initial rollout of the vaccines “aggravating” and “frustrating” and said he understood why some local people might be trying to get vaccinated outside the county.

“I think if people are going and getting on multiple lists, that’s what desperate people do,” Raimer said. “We see that with people who have need for an organ transplant. They will go register for that organ transplant, and register in multiple sites. It’s like playing the lottery.”

Medical branch officials hope to eventually be able to schedule and vaccinate up to 5,000 people a day, Raimer said. But being able to do that will require a major increase in the manufacturing and shipment of new vaccines.

Medical branch officials expounded Tuesday about what went wrong in earlier efforts to get vaccines into people, but local leaders also related new clarity about how mass vaccinations would be conducted going forward.

County officials announced Walter Hall Park in League City would be closed for up to three months so it could be used as a mass vaccination site in the northern part of the county.

Barriers went up around the park on Tuesday morning along with signs announcing it would be used as a “vaccination effort.” The county plans to begin assembling tents at the site today .

Walter Hall Park, which is on the Galveston County-Harris County line, was chosen because it has two main access points and likely won’t cause traffic problems as people lined up to be vaccinated, officials said.

The county plans to use the park as a drive-through vaccination site where people won’t have to leave their cars when they’re getting their shots, officials said.

The county hopes to open other sites in other cities in the future and to begin a mobile vaccination clinic to help reach underserved communities, officials said.

The county is paying for part of set-up of the site by using disaster-response contracts in place to respond to hurricanes.

Galveston-based disaster recovery company DRC Emergency Services is setting up the site, officials said.

More details about how people can sign up for appointments at the vaccination hub are expected to be announced later this week, officials said.

But even as one plan gets off the ground, vaccination distribution likely isn’t in its final form, said Dr. Janak Patel, the medical branch’s director of infection control and health care epidemiology.

Coming months likely will see the approval of vaccines from more pharmaceutical companies, which will further increase the supply, he said. Eventually, there will be widespread availability, Patel said.

“I have a feeling that in a few weeks, we’ll be doing something different,” Patel said. “It’s about different vaccines being available. As the supply increases, and there are more access points, the drive-through may be irrelevant.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


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(8) comments

Robert Braeking

I am wondering why distribution of the Covid vaccine is so difficult whereas the distribution of the flu vaccine is not. Why have pharmacies not been included in the vaccine process?

Craig Mason

Excellent point Robert. I have wondered why they haven't utilized the pharmacies, like Walgreens, CVS, HEB, Kroger, Walmart to name a few. These businesses already have the personnel and infrastructure in place to do vaccinations.

johnferguson Staff
John Wayne Ferguson

Hi Robert,

The first answer to that is supply. There's just not as many doses of the COVID vaccines available right now to have them at every local pharmacy, as there are with flu vaccines.

Technically, HEB, Randalls and Kroger are approved vaccine distribution sites. But they just haven't been getting that many doses. The expectation is that eventually those kind of places will have vaccines — but right now, given the limited supply people are looking for the *one* place get in line.

CVS and Walgreens are involved in the federal program to vaccinate nursing home residents, which is a separate effort from the wider public vaccination program.

The nursing home program is apparently not moving too quickly in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott and DSHS said yesterday that the companies had received 487,500 doses for nursing home patients, but had only administered 121,251 doses. During a press conference, Abbott said the companies needed to "pick up their pace."

Shanna Hager

Great reporting, Mr. Ferguson...thanks for the info...

Albert S. Gonzales

The park at the Doyle Convention Center is idea for carrying out the vaccine inoculations, no need to exit your car. There are several entrances and/or exits for improved traffic flow.

Michelle Aycoth

I know CVS is telling its customers they will begin vaccine shots in March.

Jonathan Welch

It does not help matters when Harris County residents can drive down and get their COVID-19 vaccination in Galveston County.

Wayne D Holt

Are people being made aware of the sudden deaths, facial paralysis and other unexpected effects both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations have caused? Are they being told that health authorities in Europe had reviewed the 33 deaths among seniors who died after taking it and were cautioning that among some elderly it was more dangerous than not being vaccinated?

Trying to put the best face on a bad situation, the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA) medical director said, "Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination...All of these patients have had serious underlying illnesses. We can’t say that people die from the vaccine. We can say that it may be coincidental."

Do you see how the funhouse mirror works here? When people die WITH Covid-19 who have serious underlying health issues, the virus killed them, guaranteed. When people die WITH a reaction to the shot the underlying illness is blamed. Nothing to see here, just move along.

I know where you can get two doses right away if you need them. It's the vials marked with my name on them.

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