The way vaccines are distributed has shifted since rollout began in late December, with a focus on state-recognized hubs taking precedence in recent weeks. Because of this, the city of Richardson is coordinating with Dallas and Collin counties to provide staff and resources at various hubs, Deputy City Manager Don Magner said at a Feb. 8 city council briefing. If state distribution plans shift in a way that necessitates opening sites within Richardson, the city is prepared to do that, he said.
“We feel like this is the most effective way to get our residents the vaccine as quickly as they can,” Magner said.
Distribution is set to ramp up in the coming weeks in Dallas County following approval of Fair Park as a federally backed Community Vaccination Center; however, the Texas Department of State Health Services said it does not expect the vaccine to be available for most Texans until late spring or early summer 2021.
Current projections by the city of Richardson suggest this timeline could be delayed until at least September of this year if vaccines continue to be distributed at the same rate as recent weeks, Magner said.
Working through challenges
The process of distributing COVID-19 shots was most recently slowed by dangerous weather and power outages across the state, which delayed vaccine site openings the week of Feb. 8 and closed many through the week of Feb. 15.
As sites work through the backlog of rescheduled vaccine appointments, second doses are taking priority at Dallas County’s Fair Park site. In its first days of reopening the weekend after the storms, it worked to catch up on missed second doses from a full week prior, news releases from the county said. The Department of Defense is helping with that effort, using Army medics to catch the county up, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at a Feb. 19 commissioners meeting.
At Collin County’s Plano ISD John Clark Stadium, rescheduling began the Monday following the winter storms, according to Collin County public information officer Tim Wyatt. No vials went bad for any reason during closures, as the vaccine freezers have backup generators, Wyatt said in an email.
Dallas and Collin counties both have multiple hubs that work off of county waitlists as well as locations using independent waitlists, such as UT Southwestern and select Baylor Scott & White locations.
Health departments for Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Denton counties, as well as providers using independent waitlists in the area, are currently linked on the city of Richardson’s vaccine information website. The city is encouraging residents to sign up for several waitlists to see which one might take them first, Magner said.
Texas residents can get vaccinated anywhere in the state, making neighboring cities and counties good options, he said. Once signed up for an appointment, residents can remove themselves from any additional lists.
Receiving federal assistance
The state has struggled with a shortage of vaccines while supply remains limited from manufacturers. Supply is expected to increase in coming months, representatives from Texas’ health services department shared online, and the possibility of additional vaccines authorized for use should help with that increase.
A federally backed program for vaccine distribution in Texas was set in motion the week of Feb. 8 when the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program began distributing shots at various pharmacies. Locations included a CVS store in Richardson as well as Walmart, Sam’s Club and local pharmacies across the state. As more vaccines become available, more pharmacies should begin receiving doses, Richardson’s Director of Communications Greg Sowell said.
Fair Park also began receiving federal assistance with vaccine distribution Feb. 24. The location was selected as a federal Community Vaccination Center, which runs alongside county operations, Dallas County Chief of Staff Lauren Trimble said. Three sites in Texas—in Houston, in Arlington and in Dallas at Fair Park—were selected by the White House.
The center currently vaccinates several thousand people per day, Trimble said. But federal backing means the site will be capable of administering more than 10,000 shots per day, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement.
The federal allocation, which aims to reach disadvantaged populations, is currently limited to 17 Dallas-area ZIP codes, Philip Huang, Dallas County’s Health and Human Services Director, said during a Feb. 19 update to county commissioners. Because of this, the county will begin prioritizing vaccine registration based on those most at-risk for not receiving the vaccine, Huang said. Commissioners rescinded a similar method for distribution of state-allocated doses at a Jan. 20 meeting after being challenged by the state.
The county is joining forces with former Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to register people for vaccines and to strategize other ways to reach people. The federal allocations could come to an end without a documented need for additional doses, Jenkins said.
“They [the federal government] wants to see what kind of impact they can have in underserved communities by focusing, to the extent possible, exclusively on those underserved communities,” he said.
Because Dallas County is now receiving help from the federal government, Texas’ health services department has moved to limit the number of vaccines Dallas County receives in weekly state allotments, Jenkins said. The county has appealed this decision so that Fair Park can continue to adequately distribute vaccines to North Texans living outside of those 17 at-risk areas, he added.
“The federal [site vaccine allocations] are limited to certain ZIP codes,” Jenkins said. “So, you disadvantage the 7.7 million people ... here in North Texas that don’t live in these 17 ZIP codes ... if you cut the vaccine [allocation].”