Austin Public Health discusses vaccination priorities, registration protocol as regional hub

PHoto of a vaccine being administered
Austin Public Health is moving forward with larger-scale vaccination efforts. (Courtesy Texas Children’s Hospital)

Austin Public Health is moving forward with larger-scale vaccination efforts. (Courtesy Texas Children’s Hospital)

With Austin Public Health’s new designation as a Texas regional vaccination hub, local health leaders said their first concern is vaccinating the most vulnerable, high-priority residents. The organization’s new vaccine registration portal, which went live the morning of Jan. 13, includes a questionnaire to determine applicants' eligibility, with priority given to individuals in Phases 1A and 1B: health care workers, long-term care facility residents, people over age 65 and those with certain high-risk medical conditions.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden said more than 20,000 people had already created accounts to pre-register through the portal by 10 a.m. the day of launch. Not all of those applicants will be offered an appointment, as APH's current vaccine shipment only includes 12,000 doses.

“Priority right now is individuals that are 65 years of age and older, including our communities of color,” Hayden said at a Jan. 12 news conference. “It is going to be so important that if we have elderly family members in our family—that we sign them up and put them ahead of the line.”

However, reports from some vaccine recipients have emerged on social media this week contradicting APH’s stated policy to ensure high-priority populations receive doses first. At what Hayden called a “closed pod” clinic at the Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin on Jan. 12, several individuals reported showing up and waiting in line for a few hours before eventually receiving a vaccine.

Hayden claimed this was not a clear-cut case of unqualified individuals cutting in line but rather of distributing leftover vaccine at the end of the day rather than wasting it; since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available require cold or ultra-cold storage, their shelf life is limited once the product has thawed.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, said it is possible such an instance could occur again if appointment no-shows and other unforeseen circumstances result in leftover vaccine at risk of spoiling.

“The absolute priority for every vaccine provider is, ‘Do not waste vaccine,’” Escott said. “We are going to continue to see circumstances where people outside that 1A and 1B group get vaccinated in small numbers because [providers] have to get it out. Sometimes, that's within a few hours, sometimes a little bit longer, but the vaccine has to be used. Vaccine is not wasted if it is in the arm of a Texan.”

When a person from a lower vaccination tier manages to get a dose ahead of people in groups 1A and 1B, they are still guaranteed the second dose needed to be fully immunized. Hayden said providers are required to offer a second dose where a first was given after the requisite number of days.

However, Hayden also implied that APH would be cracking down on this occurrence now that the public pre-registration portal was in place.

“Moving forward, we will not be able to provide vaccines to individuals that show up at those sites and don’t have an appointment,” she said.

Site information about the first four APH vaccination sites will be released Jan. 14, Hayden said, with more to come. Private providers also continue vaccinations, and Hayden recommended that people who have insurance go through primary care physicians and pharmacies if possible so that APH can reserve doses for uninsured residents.

In the future, Escott said, distribution should expand beyond Phases 1A and 1B to include essential workers and the general public as the Texas Department of State Health Services receives more doses and makes further allocations to providers, including APH. Escott said this expansion would likely occur once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper to produce and easier to store.

However, Escott also admonished Travis County residents not to let down their guard that a vaccine is close at hand—especially now, with coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the area at an all-time high.

“We cannot vaccinate our way out of this surge. That's going to take us sacrificing making decisions to protect ourselves, to protect our family and to protect our community,” he said.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


Austin transportation officials said April 15 the range of corridor construction program projects initiated through the city's 2016 Mobility Bond remain on track for completion by late 2024. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin corridor mobility projects moving forward in 2021, program on track for 2024 completion

Transportation officials said some corridor program improvements previously planned along Guadalupe Street and East Riverside Drive are being reduced ahead of Project Connect expansions.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Photo of a home for sale
Central Austin housing market remains steep as area median home price reaches all-time high

Home prices in the Austin-Round Rock area have climbed more than 28% in the past year.

Residents ride bikes on Shoal Creek Boulevard in this photo from February 2020. Austin Water is taking on a project to replace water and wastewater lines in the Allandale neighborhood. (jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Water line construction project begins in Allandale neighborhood

Once the improvements are made, customers can expect water and wastewater outages typically lasting a few hours as their service is connected to the new lines.

Austin FC supporters celebrate the official announcement of the team in January 2019. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
How, where to watch historic first Austin FC match April 17

Check out this list of breweries, pubs and restaurants around Central Texas that are hosting watch parties for April 17's inaugural Austin FC game.

Z'Tejas' chorizo dumplings are served on the Arboretum location's porch. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Z'Tejas to open in Avery Ranch; butcher, deli to open in Dripping Springs and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Maj. Vito Errico, left, and Maj. Jason Zuniga are co-directors of Army Futures Command's Software Factory, for which the first cohort of soldiers started in January. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
From a rifle to a keyboard: Army Futures Command opens Software Factory at downtown ACC campus

Twenty-five soldiers started in January as part of the Software Factory's first cohort. Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be at the Rio Grande campus for a ribbon-cutting April 15.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes leaders and Community First Village residents unveiled the planned third and fourth phases of the Austin development for the formerly homeless April 14. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's Community First Village for the formerly homeless announces 127-acre, 1,400-home expansion

Officials with the community, which is intended for residents who have experienced chronic homelessness, said that two new expansion phases are expected to begin development in 2022.

Photo of a sign that says "Travis County"
Travis County establishes new emergency rental assistance program for 2021

The program will provide $10.7 million in aid to county residents struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic.

Plank Seafood Provisions opened inside The Domain in late March. (Courtesy Richard Casteel)
Seafood spot opens in The Domain; All Star Liquor now serving Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.