With more vaccine supply flowing into Texas, the statewide mask mandate rollback and businesses reopening at 100 percent capacity, some Houstonians unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine close to home are making the drive two hours east to get their doses. More than 2.3 million people live in Houston, but the city and Texas Medical Center are only able to administer 232,000 doses a week.
And demand is only growing: Starting Monday, those 50 and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Texas.
While Hardin, Orange and Jefferson counties are still prioritizing residents 65 and older, they’re now accepting vaccine appointments for anyone, even out-of-towners, according to county officials. While interest has dropped off from locals, they sought to keep their tens of thousands of doses from going to waste.
Dr. Jana Winberg, the Hardin County Health Authority, said people come from surrounding areas, like Houston, to get their shot in Hardin County. But that doesn’t take away vaccines from county residents.
“We are still finding ways for people who want to get the shot to get in those slots,” she said.
As of March 1, Hardin County opened registration to the public regardless of eligibility criteria, telling the Beaumont Enterprise that they had an “extremely low” turnout for vaccine appointments, said Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel.
The Hardin County Health Department manages Orange County’s vaccines, but both are part of the Southeast Texas Regional Emergency Operations Center (SETROC) vaccine distribution hub, Winberg said.
Divvying up the area’s vaccines between Jefferson, Hardin, Jasper, Newton and Orange counties depends on which location can give the shots in a timely fashion, she said.
Hardin County has fewer than 60,000 people, and neighboring Jasper County is smaller at 35,500, Winberg said. One week in February, the county received 300 doses and fewer than 100 people made appointments.
Rather than have the Moderna vaccines sit in refrigerators, Winberg said they would prefer to bring doses to those who want them.
I know a couple of people who have done this, and I have no problem with it. If anything, it shows that there should be more vaccines distributed to the larger counties. Hopefully the supply will continue to ramp up so that fewer people will feel the need to do this. (Especially now that everyone will be eligible for a shot starting on Monday.) Until then, everyone getting a vaccine who seeks one out is a good thing, however it’s done.