The group of people eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is expanding, local health officials announced Wednesday.
The Galveston County Health District today will expand availability of COVID-19 vaccinations to include people 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions.
The health district announced Wednesday it began scheduling appointments for people qualified to received vaccinations under the first two phases of the state’s distribution plan.
The group includes health care workers and people in high-risk groups, including older people and people with chronic health conditions.
Vaccinations have been occurring in Galveston since Dec. 15, but so far have mostly been given to health care workers. Last week, some local pharmacies and medical providers began receiving the COVID vaccine developed by drug-maker Moderna.
The Moderna drug is easier to store than another vaccine developed by Pfizer. Its arrival foreshadowed the start of more widespread vaccinations outside of health care settings.
The health district has about 100 doses of the vaccine it can administer today, spokeswoman Ashley Tompkins said. The district filled its entire schedule in about an hour and didn’t announce plans to offer vaccinations again after Wednesday.
Later on Wednesday, the University of Texas Medical Branch confirmed it to would provide vaccines to older people and people with high-risk conditions. The medical branch, which is the county’s largest health care provider, won’t initially allow people to schedule their own vaccinations.
Instead, the medical branch will contact people it has identified as high risk and offer them a chance to schedule a shot, officials said.
The medical branch has identified more than 100,000 people in its own records system who would qualify as high risk and be eligible for shots sooner, officials said.
Dr. Philip Keriser, Galveston County’s local health authority and a member of medical branch’s vaccine distribution task force, said his ultimate goal was to get 70 percent of county residents vaccinated.
“The numbers are daunting,” Keiser said. “In effect, we’re using a type of first-come, first-serve. People will be referred by their doctors, and hopefully in the next week or so, people will be able to schedule appointments on their own.”
More details about places to obtain vaccines other than the medical branch and the health district were unclear Wednesday evening.
A website managed by the Texas Department of State Health Services lists 10 approved vaccine providers in the county, including the health district, the medical branch and four H-E-B pharmacies.
The state’s website doesn’t say which phase of availability each distribution site is in, or how many doses of the vaccine each site had available.
H-E-B, however, tweeted Wednesday its stores were still offering vaccines only to health care works.
The expansion announcements came less than a day after top Texas health officials urged health care providers across the state to administer more vaccines more quickly.
Texas has received about 1.2 million doses of vaccines to distribute. But as of Tuesday, only about 163,700 doses had been administered, according to the state health department.
About 3,000 doses had been administered in Galveston County as of Tuesday, according to the state health department.
In a tweet Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said vaccines were “sitting on hospital shelves” instead of being given to vulnerable Texans. About the same time, Texas Health Commissioner John Hellerstedt issued a public statement urging providers to administer all of their shots with “deliberate speed.”
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require recipients to receive two doses about a month apart. Officials from the health district and the University of Texas Medical Branch have said they were not reserving shots for a second round of doses, but as of last week had not received a second shipment of vaccines to provide the second doses.
A second round of doses for people vaccinated with the earliest shots are supposed to begin next week, officials said.