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Texas' COVID Vaccine Rollout Is Confusing. Here's A Simple Explanation Of What's Happening.

UT Austin School of Nursing student Emily Houston holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer BioNTech during injections to healthcare workers at Dell Medical School on Dec. 15, 2020. (Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News)
UT Austin School of Nursing student Emily Houston holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer BioNTech during injections to healthcare workers at Dell Medical School on Dec. 15, 2020. (Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News)

Rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has gotten off to a slow and frustrating start for some people in Texas. There's been confusion about who is eligible to get the vaccine, eligible folks have had difficulty finding providers, and the pace has been much slower than originally promised by state officials.

Here are some answers to questions we've heard a lot lately.

What’s the process for distributing the vaccine in Texas?

The state has created a plan that largely relies on private health care providers to do the legwork.

But it starts with the federal government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides how many doses of the vaccine each state gets. Then the state takes that allotment and divvies it up. The Texas Department of State Health Services tells providers – mostly hospitals, pharmacies and doctors’ offices, at this point – how many doses they’ll get. The federal government then ships the vaccine directly to those providers. The providers distribute the vaccine according to priorities set by the state.

Who has priority at this point?

First, there's what’s called the phase 1A group: health care workers, first responders and residents at long-term care facilities and their caregivers. They’re the top priority since they’re most at risk, and we need health care workers to take care of sick people.

Last week, the state said providers could also start vaccinating the phase 1B group. These are people who are over 65 or who have certain underlying health conditions. That’s millions more people. A lot of those folks have had trouble getting access to the vaccine, mostly because we’re still not done with phase 1A. There’s also just not a lot of doses out there at this point. Supplies have been delayed and manufacturing is still ramping up.

There is definitely not enough vaccine right now to get everyone in phase 1A and 1B a shot; that will take weeks or months.

If you’re not in those first two priority groups, expect to wait until spring before you are eligible.

What about long-term care facilities?

Those facilities are being served by a dedicated program run by the federal government under a contract with some big chain pharmacies. That’s just starting to get going.

Is Austin going to set up public vaccine clinics like those in Houston or Laredo?

Not anytime soon, it seems. While local health officials have said in the past day or so that they would like to do large-scale public vaccine clinics, they simply don’t have any vaccines. Austin Public Health was allotted only 1,300 doses of the vaccine in the first month of the state’s rollout. It can’t request more and won’t get more until the state decides that’s where the need is.

By contrast, public health authorities in other cities have gotten many more doses. Houston, for example, got more than 10,000 in the first weeks of the vaccine distribution. (Of course, it's much larger than Austin.) Houston has been operating public vaccine clinics for eligible residents over the past few days, while eligible Austin residents have been left to call around to pharmacies and doctors to see if anyone is making vaccine appointments.

Many providers are still focused on vaccinating the phase 1A group, though, frustrating some older people and those with underlying conditions.

So local public health authorities aren’t really involved in distributing the vaccines?

Not really, outside of a few places, since the state decided it would rely mostly on private health care providers to get the vaccine out. Local public health authorities have complained about this in recent days since many of them are getting little or no vaccine to distribute.

How does someone go about actually getting a vaccine right now?

Hard to say at this point. First, you have to qualify. That means you’re either in the 1A or 1B group. But around Austin, you don’t have many options other than getting on a bunch of waiting lists. A few places are making appointments. You can find a map of providers here.

But right now, the problem is there really isn’t a lot of vaccine out there. So unless you’re a health care worker, you might have to wait a while.

Austin Public Health says it is working on a website that might streamline the process of finding a vaccine provider, but that won’t be up until next week at the earliest.

Got a tip? Email Matt Largey at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.

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Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Matt has been a reporter at KUT off and on since 2006. He came to Austin from Boston, then went back for a while--but couldn't stand to be away--so he came back to Austin. Matt grew up in Maine (but hates lobster), and while it might sound hard to believe, he thinks Maine and Texas are remarkably similar.