7 updates on COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Montgomery County

Commissioners discussed vaccine distribution at a regular court session Jan. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Commissioners discussed vaccine distribution at a regular court session Jan. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Commissioners discussed vaccine distribution at a regular court session Jan. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Montgomery County commissioners discussed updates to the county’s vaccine distribution process Jan. 26. Here are seven key takeaways.

1. New hub site will likely move to Woodforest Bank Stadium

The new vaccination site at CHI St. Luke's Health The Woodlands Hospital is expected to open Jan. 27. However, Jason Millsaps, executive director of the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the vaccination site may move to the Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah if more vaccines arrive.

“Rumor is they’ll have substantial amount next week, which may cause us to move St. Luke’s off their campus sooner than we anticipated,” he said. “[The stadium is] going to be a much better location for that type of volume.”

The hospital received a 1,950-dose allocation of the Pfizer vaccine Jan. 23 and will begin administering vaccines this week on an invitation-only basis, according to the hospital's website.

2. Two more hub sites awaiting doses before opening

Magnolia Pharmacy, located at 18230 FM 1488 in Magnolia, will operate as the county’s eastern hub site, and a Kroger will serve as the county’s western hub, Millsaps said. Although officials did not specify which Kroger, a Kroger located at 20168 Eva St., Montgomery, has been designated a provider by the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Both locations are awaiting doses, Millsaps said.

3. Montgomery County may operate as a regional hub

Because Montgomery County has demonstrated it can operate a mass vaccination site, the state may provide it with significantly more doses, which would allow the county to better serve neighboring counties such as Waller and Grimes, Millsaps said. These counties are more rural and do not have the same capacity to operate hub sites to the extent more urban counties do.

“The state was on-site [Jan. 20], and they were very impressed with the operations,” he said. “They were indicating to us they were going to try to up our allocation so we could accommodate more and become more of a regional hub.”

Texas residents may receive a shot anywhere in the state of Texas, and Montgomery County cannot refuse vaccines to anyone who lives outside the county.

Millsaps said the state is covering the cost of vaccines, so the county is using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to pay for logistic-related expenses.

4. Call center for vaccine appointments in the works

The office of homeland security and emergency management is working on a call center to schedule vaccinations for individuals who do not have access to the internet or are unable to promptly fill out a registration. Millsaps said this could allow for a least “a couple dozen” signed up each day.

5. County moving towards centralized process

The state is providing various amounts of doses to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and other provides across the state and designating some as hub sites. However, county officials said this model—which was chosen by the state—is creating confusion.

“If it was up to [us], it would have been public health districts and major hospitals only receiving [doses], all the little pharmacies and all the little doctors’ offices would be next to receive,” Millsaps said. “Let us get the bulk vaccines out first and not make it where one guy is getting 100, the other guy is getting 200, and you’re all scrambling for those 300 doses.”

Individuals may also register for an appointment or be put on a waitlist with any vaccine provider. Montgomery County officials said they will better centralize this process by eventually consolidating everyone on a waitlist for all the different providers into one master waitlist to eliminate any duplicates.

6. First come, first serve model may be implemented once supply increases

Once Montgomery County is able to distribute between 7,000-10,000 doses per week, Millsaps said he is hopeful the county will be able to do away with its registration process and open up the sites to a first-come, first-served basis to anyone who fits the state’s criteria.

The registration process is needed due to the current limited supply.

“With limited amount of vaccines on hand, the worst thing that can happen is we open a vial at the end of the day to give a shot to one person, and there’s nine or 10 more doses in that vial, and there’s nobody on-site to receive them,” Millsaps said.

Once the dose is in the syringe, it can only last five hours, he explained, adding county officials have had to scramble to find persons to vaccinate at the end of some days to use the last remaining vials.

“So far in the county, knock on wood, we have not wasted a single dose,” he said. “The registration process, as painful as that has been, ... [has prevented waste].”

7. Demand is huge

Last week, 1,900 reservations for vaccines from the Lone Star Family Health Center filled up in 18 minutes, Millsaps said.

As of Jan. 25, 18,900 Montgomery County residents have been vaccinated, and he estimated there are about 10,000 on the waitlist.

Magnolia Pharmacy, for example, had roughly 7,000 on its waitlist as of Jan. 22, he said.
By Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.