Houston coronavirus updates: Vaccine appointments full though January on third day of rollout

Mayor Turner receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
Mayor Sylvester Turner received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 4. (Courtesy HTV)

Mayor Sylvester Turner received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 4. (Courtesy HTV)

Vaccination appointments through the month of January filled up on the first day the city of Houston ran its online appointment registration system, the health department reports.

The department is not currently scheduling more appointments. Texas is in Phases 1A and 1B of its vaccine distribution plan. In Phase 1A, health care workers who are in contact with COVID-19 patients are eligible, as are people in long-term care.

In Phase 1B, eligibility includes those over age 65 or those with certain conditions, such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, solid organ transplantation, obesity, severe obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes.

As of Jan. 4, the Houston Health Department had inoculated over 2,700 residents through its distribution system.

As more doses become available to the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters that the Houston Health Department plans to open an additional “megasite” by the end of the week.

“Across the state of Texas, that’s about 8 million people in Category 1B,” Turner said. “It’s a process we have to work through.”

When vaccines are available, residents can also schedule vaccinations through doctors' offices, officials said.

Mayor gets vaccinated

Turner, along with several council members, city employees and community members who fall under Phases 1A and 1B of distribution, publicly received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Jan. 4 press conference. Turner, who is 66, qualifies for Phase 1B.

The press conference also served as an additional opportunity to appeal to members of minority communities in Houston and encourage them to receive the vaccine, Turner said. While appointments filled up quickly at the city’s vaccination sites, he said residents of color were underrepresented during his visits over the weekend.

“This is not the Tuskegee Project,” Turner said in reference to a deceptive U.S. government health study on Black men between the 1930s and '70s. “We recognize the reservations people have, the fears they have. ... We want to encourage people in the African American community, people in the Hispanic community, people in the Asian community and people in all communities to get vaccinated.”

In a similar effort, several Black Houston area lawmakers received the vaccine Dec. 30.

Positivity rate on the rise

The city of Houston reported 899 new coronavirus cases and two newly reported deaths Jan. 4. The city’s positivity rate sits at 13.9%, continuing a weeks-long increase that began around Thanksgiving.

Health officials urged caution among residents, even those who have received the first or second doses of a vaccine, because no vaccine is 100% effective.

“Even the people who become vaccinated need to continue to wear the mask and practice social distancing until we reach herd immunity,” said Dr. David Persse, director of Houston Emergency Medical Services.

Local health officials estimated the threshold for herd immunity, or the amount of immune individuals needed to end the virus’s spread, will fall between 70% and 85% of the population.

Matt Dulin contributed to this report.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.