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 2019 as a reporter for The Woodlands area and began working as Austin's City Hall reporter in April 2021.