How do I sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine? What do I do if I'm not yet eligible? Frequently asked Austin vaccine questions answered

Photo of a vaccine being administered into an arm
The COVID-19 vaccine distribution process is ramping up in Texas. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution process is ramping up in Texas. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

The coronavirus vaccine distribution effort has come a long way since December, when the first vaccine was approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration. Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said March 19 that around 25% of Travis County residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and the eligibility pool for vaccines has significantly expanded.

There have been a lot of twists and turns leading up to this point, and our reporters at Community Impact Newspaper have heard from many community members who have questions along the way.

Q: How do I know if I’m qualified for a vaccine? Where should I look to find one if I am eligible?

A: Currently, the following groups of people are eligible to receive a vaccine in Texas.

  • Phase 1A: Healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff

  • Phase 1B: People over the age of 65 and adults with certain high-risk health conditions

  • Phase 1C: Adults over the age of 50

  • Teachers, school employees, and childcare professionals

People unsure about their eligibility can read more details on the Texas Department of State Health Services website or call their primary care provider with questions.

Travis County has more than 350 registered vaccine providers, including pharmacies, hospitals and other medical facilities, but not all of them receive vaccine allocations regularly. Austin Public Health and UT Health Austin are the county’s two regional hub providers, and receive new allocations each week. APH has consistently received 12,000 Moderna doses per week, but has a long waiting list: as of March 15, approximately 235,000 eligible people were preregistered in APH’s system. Appointments with APH are usually released on Mondays, followed by more on Thursday evening, if additional vaccine is available.

Several resources exist to find other providers with available appointments, including and Large pharmacy chains including CVS and H-E-B pharmacies have their own sign-up systems.

Some providers, including Austin Regional Clinic and CommUnityCare, are offering appointments only to existing patients, so eligible vaccine seekers may also find useful information about appointments by reaching out to their primary care physician.

Those willing to drive for a vaccine can seek appointments at any regional hub provider in Texas, including those in neighboring Williamson and Hays counties.

Q: I have been trying to sign up for a vaccine appointment through the Austin Public Health registration portal and I am running into technical issues. How do I navigate this?

A: APH has had a number of technical issues with its registration portal, including during high-traffic times when vaccine appointments are released. On Monday, March 15, this resulted in “massive delays” that put the scheduling process on pause until Thursday, when more appointments were released. .

For technical issues during sign-up times, eligible portal users are asked to submit this help form.

A common issue that arises, according to APH, is when too many users try to select the same appointment time at once.

“If you get stuck clicking ‘Next,’ this means too many people are selecting that timeslot. Please click the home icon in the upper left corner + click "Schedule, Reschedule, Cancel a FIRST Dose Vaccine'' to select a new timeslot,” the organization tweeted during the March 18 registration period.

APH also recommends enabling cookies while navigating the portal to speed up the process.

Q: I received my first Moderna or Pfizer shot. How and when do I get my second?

A: Patients should receive their second shot from the same provider that gave them their first. The provider may set a date for the follow-up dose at the first appointment, or they may choose to contact the patient to set an appointment later on.

For Pfizer recipients, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends the second dose to come 21-42 days after the first. For Moderna, the recommended range is 28-42 days, with the coming as close as possible to 21 or 28 days, respectively.

If the 42-day window passes, patients should still get the second shot, according to the CDC, but there is limited data about how an extended period between doses would impact their efficacy. The first dose does offer some protection on its own, but the full two-shot series is required to be fully immunized.

APH now automatically receives allocations for follow-up doses from DSHS four weeks after first doses are administered. According to Hayden-Howard, a smoother process to automatically schedule follow-up appointments is in the works.

“Now that the process has significantly improved and we know that the second doses are arriving weekly, we are updating our tech system to have the ability to send those appointments out [automatically],” she said.

Currently, APH reaches out to patients individually to schedule second-dose appointments. If it has been 42 days or more since the first appointment, a patient can walk up to an APH site without an appointment.

Q: I am yet not eligible, but I want a vaccine. What should I do?

A: As vaccine production increases, more groups will become eligible: DSHS has said essential workers who work with critical infrastructure will likely gain eligibility this spring, and President Joe Biden announced this month that all adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine by May 1.

People outside the current eligibility criteria have still found ways to get a vaccine. Some have received leftover shots at the end of a vaccine clinic—because the Moderna and Pfizer doses have a short shelf life outside of ultra-cold storage, health officials including Austin-Travis County interim Health Authority Mark Escott have said in these cases that the vaccine should be given to whomever is available—sometimes a lucky vaccine clinic volunteer—even if that person is not technically eligible.

"Vaccine is not wasted if it is in the arms of a Texan," Escott said in January.

Services have emerged to help facilitate these circumstances, such as Dr. B, a web portal where people can submit their location and contact information in hopes of learning about spare doses in the area as those opportunities arise.

However, in general, people who are not currently eligible have been asked to wait their turn, and to be honest about their eligibility when seeking a vaccine.

“We have millions of people across this country who want the vaccine, but we have to have a priority system to ensure that the first vaccines go to those individuals who are at the highest risk of having severe disease, or who are at high risk for exposure,” Escott said at a March 19 news conference. “Yes, it's an imperfect system. Yes, it relies on people's honesty and answering questions about medical history and where they work, and so forth. But I think as a human being, we have to respect the fact that sometimes we can't be the first in line."
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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