Travis County health leaders outline 12-week plan for herd coronavirus immunity

Photo of nurses giving drive-thru vaccines
ACC nursing students and faculty volunteer during a Travis County vaccination drive at the Circuit of the Americas. (Courtesy Austin Community College)

ACC nursing students and faculty volunteer during a Travis County vaccination drive at the Circuit of the Americas. (Courtesy Austin Community College)

Austin Public Health leaders say 85% of Travis County residents could be vaccinated within 12 weeks if the Texas Department of State Health Services ups APH's allocation to at least 24,000 doses per week.

The threshold APH is aiming for to establish herd immunity is 85%. While the World Health Organization says the exact threshold for establishing herd immunity to COVID-19 is uncertain, health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said it is likely in the 70%-90% range.

Since being named a regional vaccination hub early in 2021, APH has received 12,000 initial doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine per week. APH said on March 9 that it will take more than four months just to vaccinate the more than 200,000 qualified people already pregistered through its online portal. The organization is hopeful that larger allocations are on the way now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is in circulation.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said at a March 9 joint session of Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court that in order to achieve the 12-week timeline for herd immunity, APH would need to distribute 24,000 doses each week—not including second doses, if the Moderna shot continues to be allocated—and private providers throughout the county would need to provide an average of 267 shots each week. There are more than 350 registered vaccine providers in Travis County, but only 85 of them received doses during the week of March 8, and many received just 100 doses.

"Our goal is to get us to herd immunity, but we also want to be sure we are providing the best service," Hayden-Howard said.

Another possibility presented by Hayden-Howard would see APH shoulder the mass vaccination effort without any reliance on private providers. If DSHS ramped up APH's allocations to more than 150,000 doses per week, the hub provider could vaccinate 85% of Travis County in eight weeks. However, the daily, 16-hour clinics at mass vaccination sites would require a 2,400 person staff at a cost of at minimum $1.8 million per week.


The 8-week timeline also necessitates the opening of additional mass drive-thru clinics and walk-up sites, whereas the 12-week private-public partnership could utilize existing sites, such as the Circuit of the Americas location used by Travis County and several of its neighbors for the past two weeks.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.