4 Montgomery County health care providers among first in Texas to receive COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccinations for staff at Texas Children's Hospital facilities in the Greater Houston area began Dec. 15. (Courtesy Texas Children's Hospital)
COVID-19 vaccinations for staff at Texas Children's Hospital facilities in the Greater Houston area began Dec. 15. (Courtesy Texas Children's Hospital)

COVID-19 vaccinations for staff at Texas Children's Hospital facilities in the Greater Houston area began Dec. 15. (Courtesy Texas Children's Hospital)

Four Montgomery County hospitals were among the first in the state to receive hundreds of initial doses of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine this week.

The facilities, which include Texas Children's Hospital The Woodlands, HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, were each allocated between 975 and 1,950 doses of the vaccine during its first week of availability, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The hospitals are part of a statewide distribution effort to send more than 224,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to dozens of Texas health care providers this week following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Dec. 11 issuance of emergency use authorization for the vaccine.

Texans eligible for vaccinations during the first phase of distribution while supplies remain limited include health care personnel, such as hospital, EMS provider, long-term care facility, outpatient care and urgent care clinic, community pharmacy and public health staff; last responders; school nurses; and some higher-risk populations. According to DSHS, Montgomery County's front-line and vulnerable population of 29,453 is the thirteenth-largest in the state.

Local vaccinations begin

One regional health care system with initial allocations of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Texas Children's Hospital, began vaccinations for its employees Dec. 15. The hospital's The Woodlands and Energy Corridor campuses each received 975 doses each this week, while its main Houston campus received 3,900 doses. Among the first at the hospital to be vaccinated were Mark A. Wallace, the system's president and chief executive, and Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development.

"Based on federal, state and leading academic guidance regarding vaccine allocation, we established a framework for the equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines that guides us in our distribution process," Wallace said in a statement. "What we know as a medical community is that vaccination is one of the safest and most effective means we have to fight against preventable diseases. ... We also know we must couple being vaccinated with the practices we’ve adopted throughout this pandemic—hand washing, social distancing and properly wearing a mask, to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community."

Texas Children's said it had been developing its vaccine administration plan over recent months before the arrival of the first doses this week. Considerations for Phase 1 vaccinations at the hospital include individuals' infection and transmission risk, illness risk and effects on the hospital's patient care.

Hospitals throughout the Houston Methodist system are set to receive around 15,000 doses of the new vaccine this week, which will be used on its front-line doctors and nurses in addition to staff, including some infectious control staff, infectious disease doctors, intensivists and respiratory therapists. Houston Methodist's campus in The Woodlands was allocated 975 doses this week, according to DSHS, and vaccinations were scheduled to begin early Dec. 16 following the arrival of vaccines Dec. 15.

While a timeline for further allocations and vaccinations are yet to be determined based on availability and government guidance at the local, state and national levels, Houston Methodist said it hopes to have enough doses on hand to begin vaccinating members of the public by late December or early January.

HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood was also allocated 975 doses this week, based on DSHS information. In a Dec. 14 statement, the hospital said it was in the process of preparing for vaccinations.

“HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood is anticipating the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. Once we receive the vaccine, we are prepared to store, assemble and administer the vaccine to ensure maximum efficiency and safety," the hospital said in a statement.

Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, which received an allocation of 1,950 Week One doses—the most of the four Montgomery County campuses—did not respond to a request for comment on its initial vaccination plans as of publication time.

Countywide distribution

Misti Willingham, public information officer for the Montgomery County Hospital District, said initial vaccine allocations to the four local hospitals were determined at a national and state level prior to the FDA's emergency use authorization last week. While those doses will be administered internally at the county facilities, a total of 120 local hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and physicians' offices as well as the Montgomery County Public Health District were registered with the state as COVID-19 vaccine providers as of Dec. 14. Of those, 109 are expected to receive first-round doses, Willingham said.

The public health district has not yet confirmed when it will receive its initial allocation, although doses of the Pfizer vaccine—and other possible candidates, if authorized—could arrive by early 2021, she said.

“We are expecting January 2021 at this time. However, this is not a guarantee. There are many factors such as storage and populations served that go into making the timeline," Willingham said in an email. "As soon as vaccines are logistically set, we will start with the targeted populations in a matter of days. Moderna is thought to be about a week behind Pfizer in the approval process according to state leaders.”

While county residents included in the state's current Phase 1 tiers can now access the vaccine at the provider of their choice, as available, Willingham said a more plentiful vaccine supply is expected by next spring and summer. As the state reaches its broadest distribution phases, all residents will be eligible for vaccination.

“Since the vaccine is distributed based on county size, our primary requirement is the recipient must be a county resident and a member of the current tier," Willingham said. "Once the vaccines are more readily available, then people not in the target group will have access. MCPHD will follow the state and CDC plan for vaccinations in phases.”

Emergency use authorized vaccinations cannot be employer-mandated, Willingham said, although the COVID-19 vaccine is highly recommended by the county health district. Vaccinations through all registered providers are required to be free, although administrative fees may be billed to insurance, Willingham said.
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


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.

Montgomery County is set to receive its largest first-dose allocation during the week of March 1. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County set to receive largest vaccine allocation yet in first week of March

Nearly 20,000 vaccine doses were allocated to the county's two vaccine hubs and several additional providers for the week of March 1.

A coronavirus vaccine is given at Memorial Hermann's mass vaccine clinic Feb. 26. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Memorial Hermann closes out 2nd round of vaccines with 7,000 distributed among 2 clinics

The clinic will continue operations through 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27.

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.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met Feb. 24 to discuss items including winter storm recovery and a financial report. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
The Woodlands officials criticize county officials over CARES Act funds management; commissioner fires back

The Woodlands Township board of directors criticized Montgomery County's methods of allocating federal coronavirus aid at the board's Feb. 24 meeting, calling the $244,000 the township received a "slap in the face."

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.

Gracie Barra The Woodlands relocated to a new training center on Richards Road earlier this year. (Courtesy Gracie Barra The Woodlands)
New cosmetic services, MMA gym: 5 recent business updates in The Woodlands and northern Spring

Several businesses have recently opened in or relocated into The Woodlands area.

In addition to produce, Theiss Farms offers grass-fed beef. The family’s herd of cattle grazes in a pasture near the intersection of Spring Cypress and Stuebner Airline roads. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
Theiss Farms Market owner on winter storm: 'I knew everything was going to die, and it did'

Nothing could have prepared local farmers for last week's winter storm, Theiss Farms Market co-owner Dwayne Theiss said.