Two weeks after opening, Galveston County’s vaccination hub is providing far more shots to the already-inoculated than to people seeking their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations, officials said.
Since opening Aug. 18, the health district has provided about 5,500 vaccinations to people at the drive-through clinic at its headquarters, 9850 Emmett F. Lowry Expressway in Texas City.
Of those vaccinations, 85 percent have gone to people who said they were seeking the COVID-19 booster shot, said Ashley Tompkins, the district’s spokeswoman.
The district in August opened the first public vaccination hub in Galveston County since the closure of the mass vaccination site at Walter Hall Park in League City in May.
The Texas City hub was opened in part to ease demand on local hospital systems, which are dealing with record numbers of COVID-infected patients, officials said. To lessen demand on employees, the University of Texas Medical Branch is directing people who want booster shots to use the Texas City hub.
The hub opened at the same time federal officials began to recommend that immunocompromised people get booster shots. By all accounts, the health district is one of the first public agencies in Texas to offer booster shots, although people also can get third doses of Modern or Pfizer vaccines at private pharmacies such as Walgreens or H-E-B.
Local demand for boosters appears to be growing, Tompkins said. This week, the health district announced that people who wanted to use the hub would have to make appointments first. Previously, the district allowed people to simply drive up to the hub to get their shots.
“We’re getting into an area where we expect to start seeing demand increase,” Tompkins said. “To better be able to manage, we’re switching to an appointment-only system.”
The system is the same one used to schedule appointments at Walter Hall Park, Tompkins said. The district has the ability to vaccinate about 1,000 people a day.
On Aug. 27, President Joe Biden said he wanted most adults who already have received a full course of vaccinations to be eligible for booster shots by mid-September. The boosters would be for people who are eight months out from their initial shots.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hadn’t officially recommended boosters in the way Biden had promoted. The agency is expected to convene a meeting of its outside advisory board on Sept. 17 to review data about boosters before making a recommendation.
Booster shots are meant to alleviate a drop in the effectiveness of the vaccines’ ability to ward off COVID-19 infections and to avoid a potential decline in vaccines’ ability to prevent serious illness or death.
Studies have shown a drop in infection protection effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but there isn’t scientific consensus yet on how big the drop is and on whether otherwise healthy people need boosters.
The health district is following federal guidance on booster shots, meaning the only people who should be getting them at the hub are people who have compromised or weakened immune systems, Tompkins said. That group includes cancer patients and people who’ve had organ transplants.
The district wasn’t surprised the hub was being used by people seeking boosters, Tompkins said. The hub is being used by other people to begin their first courses of vaccination. And the number of people getting their first round of vaccinations continued to increase at a modest pace last month.
About 169,800 people in Galveston County were fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as of Thursday morning. About 59 percent of people 12 years old and older in Galveston County are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. About 48 percent of the county’s overall population, regardless of age, has been vaccinated.
On July 1, about 149,000 county residents were fully vaccinated. At the beginning of August, about 157,500 people in the county were fully vaccinated, according to state data. The rate of new vaccinations in August was slightly higher than the rate in July.