Austin health leaders urged patience — and continued vigilance — amid a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
During a virtual news conference on January 22, Austin Public Health director Stephanie Hayden, interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott, and APH chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette acknowledged the public's frustration and provided some insight into the vaccine rollout, which is currently focusing on individuals 65 and older, or the 1B category.
Hayden said that to date, the city had administered 18,427 of the 24,000 doses it has received so far.
Last week, APH opened pre-registration for Austinites to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The response was overwhelming, causing website crashes and other technical issues. That has set off a chain reaction, Hayden said, including an excess of emails to the city and an "extraordinary number of calls" to 3-1-1.
"We are asking you to be patient with us," Hayden urged.
The reason for the slowdown, according to APH, is simply a lack of vaccine doses. "We don't have enough," said Escott, "... it's going to take time."
For those who do fall into the 65 and up category, Escott said he is giving the public the same advice he's giving his elderly parents and in-laws: "Sign up for whatever list you can."
"Those over 65 should sign up on Austin Public Health," he said. Escott also noted that as the rollout expands, those with insurance should plan on getting the vaccine at one of the 350-plus local providers authorized to administer the vaccine, such as CVS or H-E-B.
"[Austin Public Health's] mission is to provide care for those who can't get care other places," said Escott, later adding: "As vaccines are available, this will shift back to the private sector so folks will have different options."
As the rollout ramps up, APH said it will pivot towards communities who have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus. Hayden said APH is working with nonprofits and ambassadors to provide vaccine information in multiple languages in neighborhoods across Austin.
"As we've said from the very beginning, this is an all-government, all-community effort," Escott said.
One thing that still isn't clear is exactly when most Austinites will get their vaccine. As we wait, the three health leaders said it's imperative to keep wearing a mask, maintain social distancing, limit unnecessary trips, wash hands, and keep work and school virtual if possible, noting the recent decline in hospitalizations.
"What you are doing is working," Pichette said.