At a Wednesday news conference, local leaders said county residents should be patient regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, adding that doses continue to be extremely limited.
In addition, officials announced the Brazos Center will be the county’s large-scale vaccination site as early as next week for those eligible. A Texas A&M official said in time the university will be part of efforts to inoculate the entire community.
Wednesday marked the 13th consecutive day with more than 100 cases of COVID-19 reported out by the Brazos County Health District, which county alternate health authority Dr. Seth Sullivan primarily attributed to holiday gatherings.
Last week, the county tapped recently retired Brazos County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Stewart to coordinate vaccination efforts in the county. Stewart, a retired Army colonel, appeared via Zoom in the news conference and said officials will use the Brazos Center on Mondays through Fridays for at least the next three months as a larger vaccination hub. He said a test run was tentatively scheduled for Monday, and vaccinations there will not initially be open to the public.
“I’m hopeful that Monday we will start processing folks through there using the medical resources of St. Joseph’s, the overhead resources of [the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service] and our local responders,” Stewart said. “We’re looking to put an injection into everyone’s arm in Brazos County, and that’s north of 200,000 people. What we’re doing today is laying the groundwork. This is not going to be just a month or two months or three months. We’re probably 10 months to 12 months before we’re able to push out all the vaccinations that will be administered in Brazos County.”
Sullivan said that as of Wednesday, 2,575 doses have been reported by the state as administered so far. He said 291 people have been fully vaccinated.
At a Jan. 5 presentation to county commissioners, officials estimated the vaccine administration number at about 3,000 doses out of 7,075 shipped to the county; in subsequent days, officials said that state reporting is lagging behind actual vaccine administration totals.
Health officials from St. Joseph Health and Baylor Scott & White sought to combat concerns Wednesday that vaccine doses are “just sitting on” shelves.
“The concept of there being a bottleneck suggests that there’s adequate supply and adequate demand. That is an inaccurate description of what’s going on. There is precious little vaccine in this community,” said Dr. William Rayburn, chief medical officer at Baylor Scott & White Health. “We have significant demand and essentially no supply. We haven’t had the opportunity to create a bottleneck yet.”
In Texas, vaccine phase 1A consists of health care workers and residents, and phase 1B is a much larger group made up of people age 65 and older and those 16 and older with a variety of chronic medical conditions.
“Right now, we are giving all that we have,” said Dr. Kia Parsi, chief medical officer at St. Joseph Health. Parsi said the initial instructions were to start with phase 1A vaccinations and that St. Joseph moved to 1B in recent days. He said more 10,000 people in the area have requested vaccines, and only a few hundred doses remain until the state sends more.
On Sunday, the Department of State Health Services announced St. Joseph Health as one of 28 designated hubs for the vaccine in Texas.
“By the end of next week, we will have given all of our doses,” Parsi said. “The idea that there are doses sitting around — I think at the state level and the local level, we are giving the doses that we have.”
In an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday, Stewart explained that the vaccination “pod” at the Brazos Center will require patients to go inside the building to be vaccinated. Stewart said the Vaccination Task Force elected not to do a drive-thru system due to logistics; receiving the vaccine requires patients to submit information on computers and then sit for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine for observation.
Although only one pod is planned for now, Stewart said there are discussions to add another, but staffing remains a restraint in moving forward. Possible locations to be used for pods, Stewart said, include the Brazos County Expo and Reed Arena. For now, the Brazos Center will be the county’s lone pod.
The Brazos Center staff is not involved with the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
Stewart said a call center for vaccination-related questions was forthcoming but not yet operational.
Stewart said on Monday the Brazos Transit District agreed to partner with the Vaccination Task Force to provide free public transportation for local residents to get to and from vaccination sites. Stewart said this initiative came after officials observed underserved populations who didn’t have their own means of transportation had issues getting to test sites over the past few months.
“If you think about too many things and you go in too many directions, then we’re going to lose focus,” Stewart said Tuesday, “and that’s why we’ve established the location, we’ve got the crew together that’s going to staff it and that’s what we’re working on today is to pull that off.”
Additionally, Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor told The Eagle on Wednesday that his department was in regular communication with county officials and was prepared to assist with vaccination efforts.
Shawn Gibbs, dean of the Texas A&M School of Public Health, said A&M has received approval for three sites to be used as vaccine distribution centers, including two College of Pharmacy sites and one College of Medicine location. Another university location is pending approval.
“Right now, we’ve not received a great deal of vaccine,” Gibbs said, and added that St. Joseph and Baylor Scott & White have helped the university with the inoculation of those in the first vaccination phase group.
“We’ve got dispensing plans for campus and to help with the community, and we plan to be part of the community distribution process,” Gibbs said.
Sullivan also said he and Stewart, along with other officials, have discussed how to ensure that the vaccine is accessible to those in each rollout phase who do not get their health care from one of the area’s larger health care providers.
“Everybody deserves a shot at getting this vaccine,” Sullivan said. “That is a priority and is critical for all of our health.”
Eagle reporter Alex Miller contributed to this article.
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