With vaccine distribution underway, Harris County officials call for better coordination of data

The Baylor College of Medicine began administering the Moderna vaccine Dec. 29. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
The Baylor College of Medicine began administering the Moderna vaccine Dec. 29. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)

The Baylor College of Medicine began administering the Moderna vaccine Dec. 29. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)

The fourth week of vaccine distribution kicked off Jan. 4 in Texas with another roughly 38,000 vaccines distributed across health care providers and pharmacies in Harris County.

However, county commissioners said they are concerned that outdated and unreliable data from the state on who is getting vaccines and where they are being distributed may lead to vulnerable populations slipping through the cracks.

"The reason why we don't have any kind of public dashboard with this information is because the information we have is sorely outdated," Hidalgo said at a Jan. 5 meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court. "The state knows this, and they told us they are working on this. The data is so far off, it's not even worth analyzing or publishing."

In a unanimous vote at the Jan. 5 meeting, the court's five members instructed the county analyst's office to work with Harris County Public Health to track the administration of vaccines across all sources in the county, a task officials said could be challenging given the wide array of providers to receive vaccines from the state. For example, the 38,000 vaccines to be distributed across Harris County this week will go to 120 sources in Houston, Baytown, Cypress, Friendswood, Humble, Katy, Pasadena, Spring and Tomball, according to state data.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said data collection is especially crucial given the growing populations in the county's unincorporated areas.


"Because almost half of our county isn't in a city, we're [the last resort]," Cagle said.

Around a million people in Harris County qualify to receive a vaccine as a part of the first two phases of the distribution effort, Hidalgo said. Under state guidelines, health care workers at risk of exposure to the coronavirus and residents and staff in long-term care facilities can receive the vaccine as a part of Phase 1A, while people age 65 and older and people with chronic medical conditions that increase risk fall into Phase 1B. An estimated 56,000 vaccines have been given in Harris County so far.

The county's public health department has only received around 7,000 vaccines so far, while the city of Houston has received about 10,000 vaccines, which are being distributed by the Houston Health Department. The vast majority of vaccines to arrive in the county were sent to private health care providers and nongovernmental entities, including private hospitals and pharmacies.

The county has been tracking its own data for the limited number of vaccines it has been able to administer, Hidalgo said.

"The thing to remember right now is we're talking peanuts—1 million people qualify, and we have 10,000 vaccines," she said. "Unfortunately, we can't have much of a solution besides what we're doing right now unless we get better data and/or we get a lot more vaccines in Harris County."

Hidalgo said she views the county's main goal as attempting to help people who qualify for vaccination but may have a hard time securing a vaccine through their jobs. Groups the county has reached out to with its limited supply of vaccines so far include teachers over age 65, people who work in mortuaries, jail medical staff and home health workers, Hidalgo said.

"Through our internal networks, we've reached out through those populations, ... and we've been able to quickly get those vaccines out the door," she said.

Unlike the city of Houston, the county did not open vaccine administration to the public, a decision Hidalgo said was made to avoid confusion and disappointment over how few vaccines were available at this point in time.

As vaccine distribution continues, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia suggested the county determine a set amount of vaccines it can administer per month and provide that number to Gov. Greg Abbott's office for future reference. He said this could help avoid issues that came up early on during the coronavirus testing process, where more people came to be tested than there were tests available.

"That way, we can take only those persons for [whom] we have vaccines instead of just doing a massive call-out and disappointing people," he said.

Moving forward, Hidalgo said it will be crucial for the state to send more accurate and timely data as well as more vaccines. In the meantime, officials said they will look into ways to gather data on vaccine distribution from across the county in a way where they will not have to rely on the state.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


MOST RECENT

An effort to widen White Oak Bayou is one of several flood mitigation projects that are moving forward in Jersey Village, according to a series of Nov. 30 announcements. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Contract approved for two flood-control projects in Jersey Village

Two flood-control projects in the city of Jersey Village are moving forward after city council members unanimously approved two contracts at a Feb. 22 meeting.

Houston City Hall in rainbow lighting
Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce celebrates five years of service

The organization is open to all and serves members throughout the Greater Houston area.

The new Fort Bend Epicenter multipurpose facility could be used as a spot for trade shows and sporting events, could act as a large-scale shelter for county residents in an emergency and more. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Large multipurpose complex coming to Fort Bend County; Sugar Land to widen University Blvd. and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather. (Community Impact staff)
Q&A: Greater Houston Builders Association President Keith Luechtefeld discusses power, plumbing, frozen pipes after Winter Storm Uri

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather.

Harris County ESD No. 11 commissioners met for a meeting Feb. 25. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County ESD No. 11 begins construction process on new facility

District offiicials have said they hope Phase 1 of construction will be complete by August.

Winter Storm Uri led to closures across the Greater Houston area during the third week of February. (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)
‘It’s been a rough year for us’: Expert explains economic effects of winter storm, ongoing pandemic in Houston region

“It's been a rough year for us economically; it's been a rough year for us public health wise. It's just been a rough year for us psychologically—first the coronavirus and then the freeze," said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research with the Greater Houston Partnership.

The $560 million central processor, which is part of the new Mickey Leland International Terminal, will replace the parking garage for terminals D and E. (Courtesy Houston Airport System)
Parking garage at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to be demolished to make way for new Mickey Leland International Terminal

The international central processor, which is part of the new Mickey Leland International Terminal, will replace the parking garage for terminals D and E.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.