Top Texas officials again urged health care providers to administer more coronavirus vaccines Tuesday, the same day the state reported that the proportion of Texans whose coronavirus tests come back positive has hit levels not seen since a summer wave of cases that overwhelmed some hospitals.
The state reported Tuesday that 163,700 Texans had been vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine. About 1.2 million doses have been allocated to providers across the state through the first three weeks since their arrival, according to the Department of State Health Services.
“A significant portion of vaccines distributed across Texas might be sitting on hospital shelves as opposed to being given to vulnerable Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet Tuesday evening.
That tweet came after health officials asked providers that received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to “immediately vaccinate” all eligible Texans, including people 65 and older and those who are at least 16 with a qualifying medical condition. That renewed push echoed a statement Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas DSHS, sent to providers last week directing them to “administer their entire allotment with all deliberate speed.”
“Dr. Hellerstedt put out that statement today to make it clear to all providers that people over the age of 65 and people with medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe disease of death from COVID-19 are eligible to receive vaccine now,” said spokesperson Douglas Loveday. “Vaccine supply remains limited but more vaccine will be delivered to providers each week. It will take time to vaccinate everyone in those priority groups.”
To be fair, lots of states are stuck in low gear right now, but even accounting for that, Texas is in the back of the pack. There are distribution problems, and there is confusion over who can get a vaccine and where and how they can get it.
Another day has passed in Texas, and if you want a #covid19 vaccine for your elderly mother, it’s still pretty much wait by your email & call random numbers on your phone. 😢 1/
— Miya Shay (@miyashay) 10:51 PM – 30 December 2020
Just talked to a pharmacist in the panhandle who’s currently watching 30 doses of the vaccine go bad because they can’t find enough “eligible” recipients. We had a year to figure this out
— Christopher Hooks (@cd_hooks) 12:09 AM – 31 December 2020
Good news for me. GovAbbott gives permission for my age group to be vaccinated. Good/bad news, 1.2 million doses are available in Texas. Bad news, no one seems to know where they are or how to sign up to get vaccinated.
— R.G. Ratcliffe (@rgratcliffe) 05:57 PM – 29 December 2020
You know what would have been useful?
A central state website and hotline where Texans could be told (based on their age, risk level and needs) where and when they could schedule to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
But, unfortunately, we didn’t have 8 months to plan for it. #txlege
— Gene Wu (@GeneForTexas) 9:12 AM – 31 December 2020
Okay friends. The Texas Health Dept. @TexasDSHS AND Emergency Mgt. @TDEM BOTH HAVE #COVID19 vaccine locator maps. BUT, they are DIFFERENT. One has more dots. Which one should you rely on? I’m trying to figure that out now. Grimacing faceGrimacing face
— Miya Shay (@miyashay) 11:58 AM – 31 December 2020
A single state website and hotline, with accurate and updated information about vaccine locations and supplies sure would be nice. What we have here evokes the old proverb that a person with one watch knows what time it is, and a person with two watches is never sure. Maybe when Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are finished harassing the city of Austin, they can spend a few minutes thinking about that. In the meantime, hospitals are pushing back against the claim that they are the bottleneck.
The state’s largest hospital association is pushing back against a suggestion from Gov. Greg Abbott and the state’s top health official that a large number of coronavirus vaccines could be going unused in Texas hospitals.
The back and forth comes as the state vaccine dashboard shows that just 205,463 Texans had received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of midweek, although 678,925 doses have been shipped around the state.
Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, sounded the alarm Tuesday, urging health care providers to begin vaccinating people 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions, including pregnant women, if they have concluded the first phase of vaccinations.
But most hospitals in the state are still vaccinating the first group of eligible Texans — hospital staffers working directly with coronavirus patients; long-term care residents and staff; emergency workers; and home health care workers — or have not yet received any shipments of the vaccine, according to Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association, which represents more than 85% of the state’s acute-care hospitals and health care systems.
“Vaccine is not sitting on hospital shelves,” Williams said, suggesting the state’s immunization reporting system has caused delays in reporting data. “With regard to data, we have no certainty it is accurate at this point in time. The number of doses administered is higher than what’s indicated.”
While the number of vaccines shipped across Texas is accurate, there have been “varying reports of the actual number of vaccines administered,” a spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management said Wednesday.
The agency launched a website Wednesday showing up-to-date numbers of vaccine doses and therapeutics available at health care providers.
Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze touted the website as a source of “real-time reporting system to show vaccine usage data from health care providers across Texas.”
The site, however, does not show how many COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.
For their part, hospital directors say the call from state leaders to move onto the next tier of vaccinations has caused chaos across the state as hospitals try to manage a vaccine rollout and a growing number of COVID-19 patients, Williams said.
“Hospitals are being flooded with calls from the general public seeking vaccine, which creates further operational challenges,” she said. “And, there are still hospitals that have not received any vaccine for their frontlines.”
The story doesn’t indicate what the URL of this new website is. The TDEM website is here, but all I found on a cursory search was information about testing, not about vaccines. This WFAA story about the bumpy vaccine rollout says that this DSHS page is the state’s main vaccine information center, but it’s mostly about eligibility. The story also reports, as Miya Shay did in her tweet, that DSHS and TDEM have two different maps showing providers who have received vaccine doses, and advise people to reach out to providers with their questions. That is not going to help with the flood of questions hospitals are already getting. Meanwhile, State Rep. Donna Howard tried to answer some questions on Twitter:
What I think I know after a full day of non-stop meetings with state agencies and pharmacies about COVID vaccine distribution. #txlege 1/
— Donna Howard (@DonnaHowardTX) 06:35 PM – 30 December 2020
You can read the thread, but it largely comes down to lags in reporting, the timing of distribution, and confusion over who is eligible. For a guy who’s emphatically rejected calls for further COVID restrictions because the vaccines will save us all, you’d think Greg Abbott would want to put more effort into getting the vaccine distribution part of it right. Just a thought, but maybe this should be a campaign issue next year. What has been your experience trying to chase down a vaccine, for yourself or for a family member?
UPDATE: Later last night, the Trib published this longer story that covers all of the topics I’ve touched on here and more. At some point, Greg Abbott really needs to feel some heat for this.