As coronavirus vaccines became more widely available across Texas this spring, leaders in Bay Area public health ensured Galveston County residents would have broader access to the shots by establishing a vaccination hub in League City.

Walter Hall Park, located off Hwy. 3, was transformed in mid-January to allow residents to drive up and receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This site was chosen in part because it is county property and could be used for as long as necessary, said Philip Keiser, Galveston County local health authority.

At the time of the site’s establishment, League City had the county’s highest rates of infection, which Keiser said also made Walter Hall Park a clear frontrunner in locations.

“At the time we chose it, they had the highest [COVID-19] rates,” Keiser said of League City, which is the most populous city in Galveston County. “Everything came together for that to be an optimum site.”

The site was also chosen based on layout and space availability. Running water, good internet access and electricity were all necessities the site could provide, and the roadways inside the park could be effectively used to direct traffic to vaccine distribution and waiting areas, Keiser said. The county had to seek permission from the Texas Department of Transportation to seal off a lane on Hwy. 3 for entry into the park, he said.

While the parking lot of the former Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque was also examined as a potential site, the site is not county property, Keiser said; aside from this, construction, electrical and other logistical issues would have complicated the process of starting a site there, he said.

The Walter Hall site was initially meant to be one of several, but it was effective enough that the county chose not to erect more, he added. The site operated until May 1, by which time demand had significantly decreased, Keiser said.

About 45.5% of the county’s population age 12 and over is fully vaccinated as of May 26, according to state data. While the county will continue smaller-scale vaccination efforts, the eventual lack of need for a large-scale site indicates the Walter Hall hub was effective, Keiser said.

“We view [the Walter Hall site] as a real success,” Keiser said. “We tried to be humble about what we learned, and we just kept doing it over and over again.”

Staff from Galveston County Judge Mark Henry’s office, the Galveston County Health District, the University of Texas Medical Branch, the League City Office of Emergency Management and volunteers from the county medical reserve corps were able to provide doses to locals at increasing rates as operations were streamlined over time, Keiser said. More than 100,000 shots went into arms at the Walter Hall site by the time it was closed.

Anywhere from 40-80 people were volunteering at Walter Hall Park per day, Keiser said. The county wanted to keep the number of staff as light as possible and rely on volunteer networks; a volunteer management software package was purchased to streamline this process, he said.

On the site’s first day, staff and volunteers got less than 1,000 shots in arms; by the time it shut down, up to 5,000 people were receiving doses per day, which is similar to the rate at which vaccines were being provided at NRG Stadium, he said.

Corrie Levine, a public health student studying for her doctorate through UTMB, said she had been waiting for the call for volunteers since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Galveston County. She said volunteering has been a rewarding experience for her, and the Walter Hall site ran smoothly because of its effective staffing.

“For the most part, everybody was super friendly and excited to be getting their vaccine,” she said. “I was taking pictures for people ... that was really cool just to see the excitement.”

Stephen Hale volunteered several times with the site and said each time he volunteered, the process was more and more efficient. Ensuring paperwork was in order for each person getting a shot was the most complicated part, he said, but with up to five lanes operating at a time, he was impressed with how well movement flowed.

The county will now continue providing vaccines through various clinics, including clinics at the Galveston and League City UTMB campuses. Keiser encouraged those hesitant about vaccinating to trust in its efficacy.

“It’s time to get your vaccine,” he said. “We know it’s safe; we’ve given it to hundreds of thousands of people in our community here in Galveston; and we haven’t seen terrible side effects.”