As an immunocompromised person, Ella Lee Forest’s Katherine Griffith was highly motivated to get her COVID-19 vaccination. Her elderly parents are also staying with her and she wanted to get them protected as well.
So when a friend with an immunocompromised husband told her about his successful experience with Legacy Community Health, Griffith got on the website. She did not have luck initially, but she continued to refresh her browser and re-enter her mother’s name.
“Suddenly she was in (at the Montrose clinic),” Griffith said.
Griffith also made an appointment for her dad soon after. It was still another couple of hours, though, before she could get one for herself at Legacy's Beaumont clinic.
Still, she was happy to take it.
“It was really well-run,” Griffith said.
After a month of available vaccines for priority groups, Houston's healthcare entities are still working out the kinks. One of those involves creating an equitable way to distribute and administer the vaccine.
“Getting a COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be like the Hunger Games,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
To that end, Harris County started a waitlist this week at ReadyHarris.org for qualifying people who want to get the shot. But early in the week, the site was down due to technical difficulties.
Dr. James McCarthy, executive vice president and chief physician executive of the Memorial Hermann Health System, talked to The Leader about how things are going. Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, 1635 North Loop West, was a recipient of more than 1,300 doses.
He said Memorial Hermann is following the state guidance for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which prioritizes vaccination in its Phase 1A and Phase 1B groups. Those are frontline healthcare and pharmacy workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders, school nurses, people over age 65 and younger people with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
“Keeping in mind our limited availability of vaccine, we are moving through Phase 1B in waves, working our way through carefully and diligently until we’ve offered vaccination to all within the phase,” McCarthy said. “The speed at which we can move through additional populations will be determined by continued vaccine supply and operational logistics. It is important to note that this process will take some time to get through, likely several months.”
McCarthy said Memorial Hermann has received and distributed both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
The week of Jan. 14, Memorial Hermann was able to vaccinate 14,000 people in their first public drive-thru vaccine clinic.
The hospital has also been selected by the state of Texas to serve as a vaccine hub. Becoming a hub allows Memorial Hermann to open up additional opportunities for those within the state’s 1A and 1B phases to schedule a vaccine appointment with a focus on making the vaccine available to the hardest-hit zip codes and demographics.
Memorial Hermann's second drive-thru clinic at NRG Park was scheduled to take place Thursday. Appointments were filled through a registration link on Memorial Hermann’s Facebook page.
“We will continue to receive shipments from the state as they are available and distributed, however, we do not know from week-to-week how many doses we will receive,” McCarthy said.
“We have been working on our distribution plan for months and we are eager to vaccinate as many people as we can,” he added. “The amount of vaccine we are receiving has been the biggest roadblock so far. We are distributing vaccine as fast as we receive it. We have the capacity to vaccinate more people, but it all depends on supply.”
McCarthy encourages patience on the part of the public.
“There has never been a time in medical history where everyone in the public wants the same thing at the same time,” he said. “We know everybody is eager to receive the vaccine, but it’s going to take some time for us to get to everyone. There are some 8 million people in the Houston area and if we vaccinate 50,000 people a day, it will take us until at least September to get to everyone.”
Heights resident Viula Torgerson in group 1B got her vaccination through Harris County Public Health at Minute Maid Park. Torgerson learned about the Twitter link to sign up on the website from a friend.
“There were entire METRO buses of elderly receiving vaccinations,” she said. “So, there must be other mechanisms (for notifications) at work as well.”