Vaccinations at the Brazos Center for people over 65 and individuals with certain medical conditions are now expected to begin at the start of February, officials said Tuesday, with supply issues from state and federal governments slowing down the rollout.
During a media tour of the Brazos Center on Tuesday, St. Joseph Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Kia Parsi said more than 20,000 people have already signed up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine through their website. St. Joseph is the primary operator of the Brazos Center’s large-scale vaccination hub, with volunteer operations set to be managed by the Heart of Texas chapter of the American Red Cross. Organizers said volunteers are needed to administer the vaccine and to staff the Brazos Center.
Brazos County Vaccine Task Force Chief Jim Stewart, who gave an interview via Zoom after the tour, said that some doses will be administered by St. Joseph at the Brazos Center next week, with a fuller rollout expected Feb. 1, assuming more doses are made available by the state.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll start 1,000 vaccines a day starting on [Feb. 1], and we’ll start the community hub piece of it then,” Stewart said. “I put the mark on the wall that we wanted to be ready by [the 25th], and I think that if we’d had doses, we could have started then.”
A call center and county-operated online signup is expected to be operational within the next 2-3 weeks, Stewart said.
Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference in Houston midday Tuesday that Texas has administered 78% of the 1,725,575 doses that have been shipped across the state — a figure that includes second doses. He said the state soon will receive 333,650 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and ship them to 260 providers across Texas.
Officials said during the Brazos Center tour that local law enforcement will direct traffic outside of the facility once it is fully operational, and volunteers will check people in a few minutes before their required appointments. County leaders stressed that vaccine administration, done in 15-minute increments, will be by appointment only. Twelve vaccine stations are set up in the facility; after an individual gets the shot, they will sign up for their second dose and move to a large observation area. People must wait 15 minutes after being vaccinated before leaving the Brazos Center so staff can monitor them for side effects.
The center will need 48 volunteers per day to operate, AJ Renold, executive director of the Heart of Texas chapter of the American Red Cross, told The Eagle on Tuesday afternoon. Renold said Tuesday that the Red Cross will be helping in Brazos County and statewide with volunteer coordination.
“What we are doing is creating a system for volunteer intake and then management of volunteer shifts,” Renold said. She said the Red Cross will be working with St. Joseph Health at the Brazos Center vaccine hub to ensure volunteers are signed up, properly trained and supported. Shifts will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Spanish-language and ASL translators will be present, officials said, as will first responders. Renold said a variety of volunteers are needed, including Spanish speakers, those who have experience administering vaccines and individuals who are willing to spend extended time outdoors helping with traffic flow and providing information to individuals.
Parsi said St. Joseph had administered more than 5,200 vaccinations in the county, nearly all of its allotment to date.
St. Joseph, a state of Texas vaccination hub, said it expects 1,200 more doses to arrive next week.
“Anyone eligible in Phase 1A and 1B can get the vaccine” at the Brazos Center, Parsi said, regardless of whether they go to St. Joseph for their primary medical care or not.
He said Texas officials have told St. Joseph to be ready for more doses in the coming weeks.
“For the 5,200 vaccines doses that we’ve distributed, we have had no serious or significant medical adverse events,” Parsi said. “We feel like these vaccines are extremely effective and safe.”
Baylor Scott & White Regional President Jason Jennings told The Eagle on Tuesday that BS&W has so far administered more than 1,900 vaccine doses to Baylor Scott & White health care workers. That is a combination of first and second doses, with about two-thirds having gone toward people’s first doses.
Jennings said another 200 first doses have been administered to community members who fall within the 1B category.
“I just want to make sure it’s clear that as soon as the vaccine becomes available to Baylor Scott and White, we are administering the vaccine to all people who fall within the 1B category with as much vaccine that we have,” Jennings said.
Vaccinations began Tuesday at the Washington County “SubHUB” site at the county fairground in Brenham, with approximately 500 of the 2,000 available doses expected to be administered by the end of the day, according to Jennings.
Jennings said it is important to have vaccination sites in rural areas and that the health center is committed to helping inoculate everyone in the community.
“Washington County EMS and Baylor Scott & White is committed to serve all people regardless of race, color, or sex or our economic means,” Jennings said. “And that’s what is so neat about this SubHUB that the vaccine could be brought to a rural community in which it may be harder for these folks to get to a larger city to receive the vaccine.”
Stewart, in his interview, said the county chose the Brazos Center over somewhere like the Brazos County Expo for large-scale distribution in part to make sure the vaccination sites were accessible to a wider range of community members. He said he spoke with elected officials Tuesday and said city and county leaders are discussing strategies to reach communities of color and ensure everyone has access to the vaccines. Stewart noted the Brazos Transit District’s agreement to partner with the Vaccination Task Force to provide transportation to and from the Brazos Center once community vaccinations are in full swing.