Dr. Matt Richardson, director of Denton County Public Health (DCPH), updated the Denton County Commissioners Court on Tuesday on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the mounting frustrations that have come with it.
In late December individuals began getting their first of two vaccine doses in North Texas.
Per the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Phase 1A of vaccination went to front line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1B includes people 65 and older and those 16 and older with a chronic condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.
But many have expressed concern that even though they fall into one category or the other they’re not anywhere close to getting a vaccine.
Richardson said the problem is there is very little vaccine available. He said DCPH only received 1,100 doses, and all but 20 of those have been administered – the remaining are going to county jail employees.
“The Phase 1B rollout that was spearheaded at the state level last week really caused some confusion because there are so many people included in 1B,” Richardson said.
He said over 100,000 people in Denton County may qualify for Phase 1B.
“But there aren’t those doses,” he said.
Richardson said the vaccination rollout for COVID-19 is different from past vaccine rollouts in that this allocation has been decentralized.
“This is a challenge because vaccine allocation is not an order-based system,” he said. “The county is not in charge of allocating to county providers … so the county has no authority to direct vaccine.”
He said the allocation system is determined by a committee in Austin.
“We have requested additional vaccine be allocated to us specifically and Denton County providers in general,” Richardson said.
Richardson said DCPH was notified Monday by the Texas DSHS that DCPH was not going to be allocated vaccine this week.
“That is merely an allocation function at the state level,” Richardson said. “There’s been lots and lots of discussion about ‘if Denton County had put in an order fast enough, if we had ordered adequate supply,’ that is not the design for the state of Texas.”
Richardson said other providers, however, got shipments.
“It’s apparent that Texas prioritized this week Pfizer vaccines and Moderna vaccines to long-term care facilities,” he said. “We support that in a public health response.”
He said many pharmacies were allocated vaccines this week but that those are mostly for long-term care facility distribution because of a contract with those facilities, a federal decision.
Richardson said it’s his understanding that the national chains are prioritizing the long-term care contracts but that some of the smaller facilities could vaccinate per Phases 1A and 1B at their discretion.
In addition to the county’s allotment various hospital systems, including Texas Health and Medical City, received doses to distribute to their facilities.
Richardson said another source of frustration is that no private providers have been given the vaccine.
“For better or for worse, this was the strategic decision over the summer by our state and federal partners to decentralize,” Richardson said. “So, I do anticipate that local private providers will be getting vaccine.”
But he said when that happens, everyone will learn about it at once, and those providers’ names will be made public.
“Those providers will be inundated with requests for vaccine,” Richardson said. “That’s the design. That’s how this has rolled out.”
Richardson said there are 227 private providers in Denton County that have registered to receive vaccine.
He said DCPH will do what it can to help alleviate the “mayhem” such as linking its FAQ site to the providers so their patients’ questions can be directed to DCPH.
County Judge Andy Eads said the two-dose requirement will make it even more difficult to coordinate.
“You may have 1,000 people you need to vaccinate, then two or three weeks later you have an additional round,” Eads said. “You’ll have to have confidence in the supply chain.”
Richardson also discussed work on an extensive website DCPH plans to launch in February that he said will provide seamless transition in a waitlist, pre-registration, registration, recall of a second vaccine dose and data management to the state’s database.
Commissioner Dianne Edmondson said she doubted a site that extensive would be available by February and called the whole rollout process “unacceptable.” She said despite making 50-60 calls she hasn’t been able to get a vaccine.
Edmondson asked if the county would be able to provide a mass vaccine clinic. Richardson said it could if the county gets large shipments of vaccine, but he doesn’t know if that will happen.
“That vaccine was designed in the beginning to go to that private provider,” he said.
He said even if the county had a mass vaccine clinic, health officials would prefer to make it a drive-thru clinic for safety reasons, but that would limit location options.
The court on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the state asking for the county to be allowed to be a depot for vaccination.
For updated information on vaccines at DCPH click here.