Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Austin's COVID-19 vaccine hub gives out nearly 4,000 doses in first 3 days, officials say

Hojun Choi
Austin American-Statesman
Lena Froese, left, Mary Hoch and Kim Spiller, nurses with Ascension Seton and the Austin school district's student health services, take a sample Thursday at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the district's central office.

Austin Public Health's state-approved hub for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines provided nearly 4,000 doses to members of the community during its first three days of operation, local health authorities said Thursday. 

Officials said the hub's first week of operation will help make adjustments for future distribution plans as needed. 

"We're looking at criticizing everything that is happening out here," Austin Public Health spokeswoman Jen Samp said. "We are looking at how long it takes someone to take off their jacket, for example, because five seconds wasted is going to add up whenever you're talking about vaccinating thousands of people."

Austin Public Health received 12,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday, and it has vaccinated hundreds of people each day at a state-approved hub location in East Austin. 

In a Thursday news release, local health officials said they have administered 3,996 doses of the vaccine. They plan to distribute the remaining doses by the end of the week. 

A line wraps around the outside of a coronavirus vaccine hub in East Austin on Tuesday.

Local health authorities have said vaccinations at the hub are only for people with appointments and have not publicized its location to discourage walk-ups. However, officials on Thursday said some people who visited the hub without an appointment had received a dose of the vaccine anyway. 

"A miscommunication earlier in the week resulted in some vaccines being distributed to those without an appointment," Austin Public Health said in a written statement. "This miscommunication has been resolved and walk-ups will be turned away moving forward." 

On Wednesday, Austin Public Health launched a registration site where residents can sign up to receive a vaccination. The site crashed shortly after its launch due to the high number of people trying to register. 

At a virtual town hall meeting the same day, Austin Public Health's director, Stephanie Hayden, said the agency will continue improving its vaccine distribution plans and encouraging the community to get vaccinated. 

'No proof needed'

Hayden also said health officials are largely depending on the honor system when giving out COVID-19 vaccines under the state's definition of Phase 1B vaccine eligibility. 

The state's Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan includes people who are over the age of 65, and those who are over the age of 16 and have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Hayden said health officials are not currently asking people to provide proof of their qualifying medical condition under the Phase 1B definition. 

"What we will not do is, we will not ask you to prove to us what the underlying condition is. We're going to go by you being honest with us and telling us what that is," Hayden said at the Wednesday town hall meeting.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has named multiple health conditions in its Phase 1B definition — including heart conditions, diabetes and cancer — but has said eligibility is not limited to what is currently included on the list. 

Hayden said people who believe they have a health condition that puts them at a higher risk of severe disease, hospitalization or death from COVID-19 should call their primary care provider even if their condition is not explicitly listed under the state health department's definition.

"I think it would be good to have that conversation with them and share those concerns with them," Hayden said. 

At Wednesday's town hall, Hayden and other local officials, including interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, answered questions from the public regarding the science behind the vaccine, as well as plans for distributing it to different populations. 

Hayden said people who are uninsured should reach out to Central Health to find out their options for receiving a vaccine. 

"Our overall strategy with everyone that needs to be served is to put our focus on the hardest hit communities in our areas. We want to focus on communities of color, people from low income and older adults," Hayden said. 

The town hall was the first of two planned to discuss local health officials' vaccine distribution plan with the community. The second meeting was held in Spanish on Thursday evening. 

The vaccination initiative comes as efforts to respond to the surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have increased. Local health officials have for weeks warned of a shortage of staffing for intensive care unit hospital beds.

Austin Public Health on Thursday said three people have been transferred to the temporary field hospital at the Austin Convention Center, which opened Monday to provide more hospital bed availability. 

The Austin school district this week also offered free drive-thru coronavirus testing to students and staff who are involved in in-person learning and extracurricular activities. School officials said more than 1,200 people registered to be tested during the two-day event. 

American-Statesman staff writer Heather Osbourne contributed to this report. 

Listen to the Statesman's news podcast: The best local news, 8 minutes a day