This week’s disaster disrupted COVID-19 vaccinations in Galveston County.
But with clearer skies and warmer days ahead, county health leaders hope to get the vaccination program back on track next week.
Icy roads, sub-freezing temperatures and water shortages caused the county, the Galveston County Health District and the University of Texas Medical Branch to postpone thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations this week.
“It basically put us a week behind,” said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority.
The health district began catching up with some vaccinations Friday by administering second doses to people who had been scheduled for them next week. A few dozen homebound people also received second doses from a home-service program operated through the medical branch.
As of Friday morning, 23,844 people in the county had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s about 8.9 percent of the county’s population eligible to be vaccinated. Another 44,335 people had received their first vaccination, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Not everyone who was scheduled to get a second dose managed to get one this week.
But that isn’t a huge concern. The University of Texas Medical Branch on Friday posted a notice reassuring patients that while doses are normally given at the three- or four-week mark, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations allow second doses to be given up to six weeks after the initial dose.
The medical branch and health district are contacting people who missed appointments and will reschedule them as they are able, officials said.
The county’s large vaccination hub at Walter Hall Park won’t open this weekend, officials said. Health officials hope to hold three or four days of mass vaccinations next week, Keiser said.
There could be hiccups to come caused by the storm, Keiser said. This week’s weather delayed shipments of new COVID doses. Doses the county was supposed to receive earlier in the week sat in storage, Keiser said.
“It got shipped to Louisville, Kentucky, by UPS and then sat there for five days,” Keiser said.
The health district and other entities will have to make sure the delayed doses are still viable before using them, Keiser said.
“We assume that UPS has the sub-zero storage and all that stuff, but we still do have to make sure that it’s good,” he said.
Restarting the vaccine program might be slowed by lack of staffing. The county’s large vaccination hub at Walter Hall Park relies heavily on volunteers, many of whom are probably dealing with lingering issues caused by the hard freeze, Keiser said.
“Everybody’s been affected by this, and everybody is just exhausted,” Keiser said. “There’s only so much we can ask of people in times like this.”
It also will take a few days to understand the current state of COVID infections in the county.
The weather disrupted COVID testing and reporting, so it’s likely the number of new cases reported in the county will be lower in coming days. Still, Keiser noted that new infections were generally decreasing in recent weeks, after reaching a peak in the middle of January.
It’s unclear how the cold front and its ensuing problems will affect the number of COVID cases in the county, Keiser said. On one hand, many people stayed home and isolated, which is effective at slowing the spread of the virus. On the other, many people gathered at warming sites around the county, which might have put them at risk for infection, even as the facilities took precautions against it.
“I’m hopeful that everybody stayed home and that our numbers will drop,” Keiser said. “I’m still cautiously optimistic. The curve continues to go down around the country. I really think that between people getting vaccinated as well as people having some sort of immunity from a prior infection, it’s going to have an effect.”
As of Friday afternoon, there were 5,610 active cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County. Of the 29,035 cases reported in the county since March, 23,167 people have recovered and 258 have died, according to the health district.