The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is headed to Texas, and they’re bringing loads of COVID-19 vaccine doses. At least, that’s according to Governor Greg Abbott and the White House’s COVID response team. KERA Reporters Hady Mawajdeh, Bret Jaspers and Aléjandra Martinez have been following this story. And the three of them gathered to bring us up to speed.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and to include additional details.
HADY MAWAJDEH: Let’s start with some good news, pharmacies like CVS and Walmart are getting COVID-19 vaccines right now, and next week additional doses are coming. Here’s what the Texas Department of State Health Services’ associate commissioner, Imelda Garcia told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
GARCIA: We will have 80,000 doses that are shipping or have already arrived [to] 376 pharmacy locations. And we do expect that to be fairly consistent [over] the next week or two.
Garcia also told reporters that the vaccines being sent to pharmacies will not affect the approximately 400,000 doses of vaccine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending to the state for its 300-plus providers.
On top of all of that, a couple of Federal “super sites” are being set up in North Texas. Bret, what do we know about them?
BRET JASPERS: One site is going to be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. There’s another planned for Fair Park in Dallas. And a third site will open at NRG Stadium in Houston. These are also part of a White House plan. They’ll be run by FEMA.
MAWAJDEH: How soon will they open? And how many doses of the vaccine can we expect?
JASPERS: The White House said the week of February 22nd is when the doses will begin to be administered. And combined, these three sites will do over 10,000 doses a day. So, if these run every day of the week, it would boost the number of doses coming to Texas by over 15%.
Dallas County has already established a vaccination site at Fair Park, where it administers a lot of vaccines. But they are not doling out as many doses as this federal site is promising to deliver.
ALEJANDRA MARTINEZ: How will people register for these federal super sites?
MAWAJDEH: First off, the feds will be taking over the Fair Park operation from Dallas County and the City of Dallas. And DSHS said Thursday afternoon that FEMA will use Dallas and Tarrant County’s existing waitlists. So, if you’ve registered with the counties for a vaccine, you don’t have to register again.
JASPERS: I’ve got to say, vaccine news comes fast these days. And the rapid delivery of news from the governor and federal officials is leaving people locally trying to catch up.
MARTINEZ: That’s so true. I was watching a Dallas City Council meeting this week and at one point, council member Cara Mendelsohn was trying to get the details about the Fair Park vaccine site becoming a ‘super site’ from Rocky Vaz. He’s the City’s director of the Office of Emergency Management. The two were dumbfounded.
MENDELSOHN: I’m wondering what’s going to happen with the Dallas County operation?
VAZ: I do not have any details. I know as much as you do at this point from the news media. I’m waiting [until] after this meeting to try to get with Phil Huang, [the Director and Health Authority for the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department] and [Dallas County Judge Clay ]Jenkins to find out more details… I am not sure they have many details either.
MARTINEZ: Council members then went on to complain about the flow of information. They say, that when constituents come to them for information about vaccines, they often don’t have the most up-to-date info. They’re learning about things at the same time the public does.
JASPERS: When it comes to public health, simple and clear info matters a lot. And we don’t always get that but, even if the vaccine rollout is herky-jerky, Eric Boerwinkle at UT Health School of Public Health says logistics are hard and we should be patient.
BOERWINKLE: To expect all of those details on Day 1 and Communication 1, I think is not fair.
MARTINEZ: True. And it’s also a huge deal that vaccines are being developed so quickly. On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he’s hopeful we’ll have “open season” on vaccines by April. He’s thinking anybody will be able to get the shot soon.
MAWAJDEH: That is honestly terrific news. Still, we cannot forget that people are still dying. I know there’s been news about some North Texas counties reporting fewer new infections over the past week. But those decreases come on the heels of back-to-back weeks of record-setting death tolls, particularly in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Yesterday alone, in Dallas County, 45 people died of COVID-19.
JASPERS: And there’s another concern: Dallas County had to shut down its Fair Park distribution because of the cold weather. Other places too. And another week of winter weather could present a challenge to the plans for ‘super sites.’
MAWAJDEH: That’s right, Bret. I guess we’ll have to keep watching. And keep following recommendations for COVID-19 prevention. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and social distance.
Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at email@example.com, Hady Mawajdeh at hady@KERA.org and Alejandra at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Bret @bretjaspers, Alejandra @alereports and Hady @hadysauce on Twitter.
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