Spring and Klein health care workers at local hospitals began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-December—about nine months after the virus arrived in Harris County.

Hospitals in the CHI St. Luke’s Health system received doses in the first distribution phase. The Vintage hospital received 975 vaccine doses, while the Springwoods Village hospital split 2,200 doses with The Woodlands branch, according to Vanessa Young, the director of external communications for CHI St. Luke’s Health. Of the 2,200 doses they received, 2,053 vaccines had been given as of Jan. 13.

“St. Luke’s Health, like all other health systems across the country, has yet to receive the vaccine for distribution to general patients and the public,” Young said.

Despite cases rising locally during the holidays, Keith Barber, the CEO of Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, said he expects COVID-19 levels in the hospital will stay manageable and decline once the vaccine is more widely distributed.

Dr. Ian Glass, the hospital’s chief quality officer, said distribution to the general public is based on a tiered system, with older and high-risk individuals first. Younger, healthier individuals will be the last to receive the vaccine.

Eligible patients began receiving the vaccine Jan. 18. Residents should, however, take precautions even after they receive the vaccine.

“[We] need people to focus on getting vaccinated and then continuing with the precautions of wearing their mask and social distancing and good hand hygiene,” Barber said.

Glass said these measures have not only helped curb the spread of the coronavirus, but they have also significantly diminished cases of the flu, strep throat and other viruses.

As more doses become available, individuals can also get vaccinated at Walgreens and CVS pharmacies as early as January, Glass said. Side effects may include fever; a sore arm; tiredness; and, in rare cases, allergic reactions. But Glass said these effects are typical of any vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine contains a small piece of protein called RNA that attaches to cells. The vaccine also stimulates immune systems so the virus is killed upon contact, he said. Glass said he estimates about 75% of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity and keep infection levels under control.

“We want to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated,” he said. “It will make all of this horrible tragedy go away very quickly.”