With an extremely limited vaccine supply, Austin Public Health is now focusing its distribution events on individuals who are 65 years of age or older, public health officials said Friday.
"We have more than 129,000 of (people in this category)," APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said Friday, adding Austin residents who do not fall into this demographic group to be patient.
APH has received 25,300 doses of the COVID vaccine from the state since the federal rollout began in mid-December, with the vast majority of those doses arriving in the last two weeks. Austin Public Health has administered 18,427 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine—or around 73% of its total supply—to community members as of Thursday.
Despite the bumpiness of the rollout—which has been mired by mixed messages, tech glitches and limited supply—Austinites may start to see the benefits of mass vaccination among the elderly. The area could see deaths and hospitalizations decrease, as the virus has the most severe symptoms for those individuals.
"As we gain herd immunity within those age groups, we start to see the threat of overwhelming our healthcare system dissipate very quickly," Escott said, adding that by March or April the metro could reasonably vaccinate the 70% of people 65 years of age needed to achieve herd immunity in that group.
However, APH is constrained by the number of vaccines it is allocated by the state—and a lack of lead time. The Texas Department of State Health Services typically announces its weekly allocations on Sunday, which means that providers such as APH cannot schedule appointments or set up distribution events more than a few days in advance.
"Is it frustrating? Yes." Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said of this process. "Mostly because there's not enough."
People in that age group can sign up for APH's pre-registration system. As its vaccine supply is replenished, it will alert those on the list about available appointments.
In the meantime, Escott offered the advice he has given to his parents and in-laws: "Sign up for whatever list you can sign up for," he said. "Because it's not clear who's getting vaccines next week and who's not."
Readers can find area vaccine waitlists here.
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