On the first day of booking appointments, slots for the Frisco hub met capacity. The story is the same on a broader scale, as the vaccine waitlist in Collin County has surpassed 200,000 names, as of Feb. 2. In Denton County, the vaccine interest form is nearly 160,000 names long. The waitlists allow non-county residents to register. In total, the two counties have delivered 82,422 doses combined. As of Feb. 2, data shows 1.48% and 2.15% people have been fully vaccinated by Denton and Collin counties, respectively.
In late January, Collin County received a shipment of nearly 43,000 more doses after weeks of requesting additional vaccines, some of which were sent to Frisco’s new hub.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill said people still need to exercise patience. While the county has been preparing for vaccine distribution for weeks, there is a limited number of vaccines nationally, he said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services “advises that the vaccine will not be readily available for most Texans until late spring or early summer 2021,” Hill said in an email. “We are ready and able to increase vaccinations as the supply increases.”
The vaccine hubs—located in Frisco, Plano, McKinney and Allen as well as at Texas Motor Speedway in Denton County—operate by appointment only. Other providers are expected to offer vaccines to the public as well once supplies increase.
The city of Frisco’s hub was approved to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 29 and began registering people Feb. 1. Frisco Fire Chief Mark Piland said the biggest challenge with the hub so far has been simply getting the vaccines. “I remember we got the note that we were getting 7,800 doses of Pfizer vaccines, and I thought, ‘Wow, finally, we get to set up our site,’” Piland said.
The site operates inside Stonebriar Centre mall so people will not have to stand in line outdoors, he said.
Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said he is grateful the city’s team can continue its work to “keep the public healthy.”
“We’ve had an internal Vaccine Team in place since the beginning of January, anxiously waiting for a green light,” Cheney said in a city news release. “We’re looking forward to vaccinating as many folks as possible.”
The city started with 3,000 names from the Collin County waitlist but then began registering people for its vaccination site through a separate process.
To book an appointment for the vaccine through the city, those who are eligible can visit www.friscotexas.gov/vaccine. Registration opens each evening at varying times and closes once all appointment slots for the next day are filled. The city is using its e-newsletter to communicate vaccination efforts as well. Appointments will be made until all the doses the city received have been distributed.
Piland said city staff and volunteers are contributing to the city’s smooth vaccination process. “We expected it to go well, we’ve trained a lot and put a lot of preparation in, but it’s even exceeding our expectations,” Piland said.
While the city of Frisco was originally preparing to vaccinate a maximum of 2,000 people a day, the process is working so well it could end up being more, Piland said.
“We have committed to the state to be here at least until the end of June,” he said. “We’re here for the long haul. We’ll be here as long as they continue to provide vaccines for us.”
The rest of the local rollout
The city of Allen also operates its hub separately from Collin County. Patients can sign up for vaccine appointment alerts on the city of Allen’s website, which will email people for an appointment when their name has reached the top of the list.
A second Frisco hub located at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center is run by the hospital network and currently pulls names from the Collin County waitlist for its appointments.
The hubs in Plano and McKinney are also using the Collin County waitlist to schedule people for a vaccine.
Denton County originally opened its vaccination hub two days a week and in rotating locations in an effort to provide equitable access to the vaccine.
Beginning Feb. 2, the county opened a vaccination clinic at Texas Motor Speedway in north Fort Worth. The site is staffed with medical personnel from Denton County Public Health, the Medical Reserve Corps and area fire departments.
According to a news release, the site will have three clinics with 16 drive-thru lanes capable of vaccinating up to 10,000 people an hour. Vaccinations are by appointment only.
People who are on the Denton County waitlist will be contacted when their turn comes up.
“This is the largest drive-through clinic that we know of in the state, and possibly the U.S.,” Denton County Judge Andy Eads said in the release. “It is an ambitious undertaking but one the Denton County Commissioners Court feels good about with the help of more than 400 county staff, volunteers, fire and police personnel from our surrounding communities, CoServ and Texas Motor Speedway.”
Jennifer Rainey, public information officer for Denton County Public Health, said patients may not schedule their own appointments at this time, although a system is in the works to make that possible in the future.
Each patient on the county waitlist will be randomly assigned one of the available appointment slots. The patient will receive a text, an email and a phone call about their appointment.
If a patient cannot come during their assigned appointment slot, they do not need to worry about losing their chance to be vaccinated.
“They can either cancel [that appointment] and click ‘remove myself from the waitlist’ [or] cancel and remain on the waitlist [when they get the text],” Rainey said. After that, the county will schedule them for another appointment slot within the next week.
People do not need to be a resident of Collin or Denton counties to sign up on those waitlists, but patients must return to the site where they received their first vaccine to get their second.
Those interested in being vaccinated are encouraged to sign up at multiple sites and respond to the first phone call they receive, McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner said.
Efforts to distribute the vaccine come as the coronavirus continues to spread. The percentage of hospital beds in the North Texas region occupied by COVID-19 patients has been trending downward since hitting a high of 27% on Jan. 9. As of Feb. 2, the rate was 18.11%.
‘Get past this pandemic’
Under the state of Texas’ distribution guidelines, the first batches of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are reserved for people in groups 1A or 1B. These include health care workers; residents of long-term care facilities; people age 65 or older; and those at least 16 years old who have a chronic medical condition, including pregnancy, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The state must still decide which groups will come next on the eligibility list for the vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna have both said their respective vaccines are 95% and 94.1% effective at protecting vaccinated individuals from an immune response caused by the coronavirus. But Dr. Janie Sanders of Texas Health Frisco said that does not mean that a vaccinated patient is either completely safe from the virus or relieved from protecting others.
“Seven days after the second dose of the vaccine, it pretty much gets [you] at 95% immune,” Sanders said. “That doesn’t mean [you] can’t contract the disease.”
She said it is not clear as to whether vaccinated individuals may still transmit the virus to other people.
“I may have protected myself, but [the data] has not shown me how much I am protecting others,” Sanders said.
She said there is not enough data yet to provide clear answers about exactly what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated in order for life to return to a pre-pandemic state.
“All of the things that we’re doing today, we are going to continue to do until we have better information and better data that tells us otherwise,” Sanders said.
As far as side effects are concerned, Sanders and registered nurse Vanessa Lozada, who is the emergency department nurse manager at Texas Health Frisco, said they have seen only mild side effects, such as arm soreness and fatigue, from coworkers who have been vaccinated.
Sanders said the advent of the vaccine is promising for a post-pandemic future.
“I’m here to make sure we get this information out to the community so that they can be well-informed, so that they can make the correct decision—or the educated decision—and hopefully, that’s the decision to get the vaccine,” Sanders said. “It’s what we need to do right now to get past this pandemic.”
Matt Dulin contributed to this report.