Austin Public Health asks for patience as limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines continues to go to highest-risk community members

Photo of vaccine vials
Travis County is still in Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Travis County is still in Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Austin Public Health, which is currently the largest distributor of coronavirus vaccines in Travis County, has administered 18,427 doses to date, with several thousand more set to be distributed this weekend.

Although APH has been designated as a regional hub for distribution by the Texas Department of State Health Services, its allotment of 25,300 doses thus far accounts for less than 1% of the area population, according to APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard.

“One thing that is certain is that we don’t have enough vaccine for our community,” Hayden-Howard said at a Jan. 22 news conference.

Facing a tide of questions from community members struggling to find vaccine appointments, APH has continued to preach patience for a process Hayden-Howard said will be a multiple-month "marathon."

"We are asking you to be patient with us," she said. "We know that we need more vaccines, and we are overwhelmed and excited about the number of folks that would like to receive [one]."

APH is only one source for vaccines in the area—many private providers, including hospitals and pharmacies, are receiving allocations from the state week-by-week. But limited supply of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is a consistent issue among those organizations as well. Since its its first shipments in December, the DSHS has allotted 86,825 first doses and 39,725 follow-up doses to providers in Travis County—not enough to account even for the 126,607 county residents age 65 and up, the group APH is currently prioritizing.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said those who qualify to be vaccinated under Phase 1B of the state of Texas' vaccination plan—which includes those older residents and people over age 16 with high-risk health conditions—could be largely vaccinated by March or April, at which time Austin are hospitals could see a lessening in the number of coronavirus cases that lead to hospitalization or ICU usage.

Aside from limited supply, APH leaders said the vaccine rollout had been challenging in other ways.

"Part of the challenge we've had throughout this pandemic is that the public health data systems didn't exist [prior to COVID-19]. We didn't have an easy and accurate timely flow of information from the federal government to the state government to local government, and so all these things are being built in real time," Escott said.

According to Escott, APH is working on building a new dashboard that will display vaccine distribution data across Travis County ZIP codes and demographics. It is also developing a landing page on the city of Austin's website that will aggregate links to various providers' vaccine registration portals and signup sheets. In the meantime, APH is also working on improving its own registration portal, which has experienced technical issues.

"The portal we have right now is in the process of being revised and improved. As we tweak that, we expect for the user interface to be smoother and have less bugs," 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.


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