‘Hope for tsunami of vaccines’: North Texas county judges discuss regional collaboration in COVID-19 response
AECOM Texas Executive Wendy Lopez moderates a panel discussion Feb. 4 featuring Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Denton County Judge Andy Eads, Collin County Judge Chris Hill and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. (Screenshot courtesy North Texas Commission)
Denton County Judge Andy Eads said it has been a challenge for each county to get vaccines from the state because of the present scarcity of doses.
“We're not manufacturing the vaccine, so we're all trying to get it out as fast as we can and as efficiently as we can,” Eads said. “It really, at the end of the day, comes down to the state, which is that middleman between the manufacturers and us as the distributors.”
To assist with distribution, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said his county is hoping to open drive-thru vaccination sites as soon as next week. Collin County Judge Chris Hill said his county has six vaccination hubs, including four drive-thru sites, currently operating, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said his county also plans to implement drive-thru distribution next week.
The discussion took place during an hour-long online forum Feb. 4 that was moderated by AECOM Texas Executive Wendy Lopez on behalf of host the North Texas Commission.
Whitley wants to see efforts in North Texas extend beyond the four largest counties. He estimated as much as 8% of the around 200,000 vaccinations Tarrant County has distributed have been to non-county residents and 31% of the registrants on the wait list are from outside Tarrant County.
“We're going to want to figure out ways to set up sites in those surrounding counties,” Whitley said. “The thing that we're constantly trying to do is to prepare for what I hope is a tsunami of vaccines that will be coming in the next three to five weeks.”
Counties receive little notice of how many vaccines they will receive on a weekly basis, Whitley explained. Eads said all four judges are hoping to get two to three weeks of notice on the number of vaccines they will receive to allow for more staffing and better planning.
Jenkins recommended North Texas residents register with each of the four counties to receive a vaccination.
“Unfortunately, we're going to be vaccinating people for the rest of this year, and maybe some next year too,” Jenkins said. “You can register anywhere you're willing to drive.”
However, Jenkins noted there are still some cities and vaccination sites are using their own lists, so he recommended those in phases 1A and 1B to register for those as well.
“We’ve got to stay focused on winning, because we’ve got to get the herd immunity,” Jenkins said. “We do that also by not spreading the virus again.”
Collin County's approach of distributing vaccines at six county hub sites, four of which are drive-thrus, is different than the other three counties, Hill said.
“We're getting out smaller allocations of the vaccine at each of those locations rather than 10,000 a day in one spot,” Hill said. “But I'm impressed by all the different models that are going on in Dallas, Denton and Tarrant. We appreciate the partnership from our cities—Allen, Plano, McKinney and Frisco especially—who are running those four drive-thru hub sites for us here in Collin County.”
Tarrant County has its own registration list for vaccines, but Whitley said he believes the counties and the state could do a better job coordinating efforts.
“What has basically happened is because there was a void there, we each went in and filled the void in our own different ways,” he said. “Hopefully in the future, we can maybe have time to set up some common databases so that we don't have people registering in 19 different places in hopes of being able to go to the first one that's available.”
Whitley also said each of the counties is hopeful the costs they are incurring for vaccination efforts will be reimbursed by the federal government.
“At this point, everybody's in it, and they're just doing what they feel like is the right thing to do,” Whitley said. “It can get to be a real drain on our budgets the longer we have to keep doing that. And to everyone's credit, that has not been something that has caused us a moment of hesitation. Everybody stepped up and said, ‘We've got to do this and we're going forward with it.’”
Editor's note: The original post has been edited to correct an error. The online forum was Feb. 4.