After state expands COVID vaccine access to Group 1B, Austinites find doses remain extremely limited
Over the last week, the Capital Medical Clinic on West 38th Street has been "besieged" with phone calls.
The callers all want to know the same thing: Is the clinic offering COVID-19 vaccines to members of Group 1B? The group includes people 65 years of age and older and those with a chronic medical condition.
The answer, at least for now, is no, said Dr. James Marroquin, an internal medicine doctor who practices at the clinic.
Instead, Capital Medical Clinic is working to allocate its 500 doses to individuals in the 1A group, including its own clinical staff and other front-line healthcare workers.
Many of Travis County's 58 other facilities that have received vaccine allotments are in the same boat.
Austin Regional Clinic, Austin Public Health, H-E-B Pharmacy and many other local providers are limiting their vaccine supply to members of group 1A, which include front-line healthcare workers, first responders and long-term care facility staff and residents.
Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—are doing the same.
"Once we have more vaccines, we will start offering the vaccine to Group 1B as supply allows," Tarrytown Pharmacy Pharmacist-in-Charge Dr. Rannon Ching wrote in an email to Austonia. "We still have quite a lot of folks in 1A, but we do want to start taking care of 1B as soon as we can."
Only two facilities—Austin State Hospital and the Family Wellness Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing—are administering vaccines to individuals in Group 1B, out of more than 40 that Austonia reached out to or otherwise confirmed.
The first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed in Texas the week of Dec. 14. Gov. Greg Abbott said 1.4 million residents would receive their first dose by the end of the year.
Although vaccines continue to be distributed to facilities around the state, there have been myriad issues with the rollout, including mixed messages from health officials and data delays, and the number of Texans vaccinated falls far short of the stated goal.
Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt raised concerns of "unnecessary delays in administering all allocated vaccines and reporting those administered doses to the state's immunization registry" in a Dec. 23 memo.
As a result, he directed facilities that had received COVID vaccines to expand access to 1B individuals once all willing members of Group 1A had been vaccinated.
Less than a week later, DSHS mandated that providers "immediately vaccinate" members of both groups and directed eligible residents to call their providers to sign up for their shots.
This was confusing for clinics such as Marroquin's. With no clear guidance from the state, staff did not know whether to reserve some of their vaccine supply to ensure they would be able to administer the second dose or administer everything and hope for another allocation.
It also led to the influx of callers—in Austin and around the state—who were being told by state officials that vaccines were going unused but couldn't make an appointment at their local doctor's office.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, tweeted on Dec. 30 that the roll-out was impacted by a number of challenges, including delayed reports of how many vaccines had been administered, which led to a "false impression" that more doses were available or otherwise uncommitted.
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 (@Donna Howard)1609374917.0
The DSHS vaccine dashboard currently reports that 17,741 Travis County residents have received the COVID vaccine, out of 41,925 doses that have been distributed. Statewide, 377,050 people have been vaccinated—or just over a fourth of what the governor promised.
These numbers are likely an undercount because of the aforementioned reporting delays.
"I'll tell you that the state's reporting data on vaccines is way, way off," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a Dec. 30 press conference.
But he also admitted that the state had not yet distributed enough doses locally to cover all of the individuals in both groups.
Austin Public Health estimates there are about 80,000 individuals in the 1A group, or nearly twice the number of doses distributed in Travis County so far, plus an additional 205,000 in 1B.
Still, Escott remains optimistic. He expects "a significant portion, if not all" members of groups 1A and 1B who wish to be vaccinated will receive their first dose by the end of February.
"Once we can cover the 1B group, that covers the vast majority of individuals who are going to have a severe illness or death from COVID-19," he said.
This confusion, however, may have lasting consequences.
Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion joined three other Black elected officials representing Central Texas in raising concerns about the "troubling roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines" and how it has deepened inequities in the state's pandemic response.
"Generations of disinvestment and underdevelopment in the Eastern Crescent led to the lack of grocery stores, pharmacies and clinics (able to distribute vaccines)," they wrote in a statement issued Monday. "This is a major concern given that the Black and Latino communities within the Crescent are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and have seen disproportionately higher rates of death due to the illness."
On Monday, Marroquin and his colleagues had trouble reaching patients, which some suspected was due to the flood of incoming calls from vaccine seekers.
"There's like a frenzy out there," he said.
Updated 4:45 p.m. to include a response from the Austin State Hospital.
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It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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