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Bioscience-Medicine

In Preparation For Second Vaccine Distribution, Hays County Strives For More Accessible Rollout

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)

Hays County is preparing to dispense another round of coronavirus vaccines next week, and local officials are working to make the registration process more accessible, especially for older residents and people without internet access.

The first round of vaccinations wrapped on Tuesday and was largely powered by volunteers, paramedics, firefighters and staff from multiple emergency management departments. But while the help was abundant, appointments were scarce — all had been booked within 15 minutes the week before.

One county commissioner called the circumstances a “disaster,” and many expressed frustration over a lack of communication about vaccination efforts.

“I do have a number of elderly constituents that aren’t on social media, that don’t work on a computer,” Commissioner Walt Smith said during a commissioners court meeting on Tuesday. Smith’s precinct includes parts of Southwest Kyle and the towns of Driftwood and Dripping Springs. “I hope that we just do a better job as these things progress.”

This is the second week Hays County has received a major vaccine delivery. Like last week, the state allocated Hays 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

This time, county officials announced when the county's vaccine appointment portal would open several days in advance. It will go live online at and by phone at 512-938-1650 on Friday at noon.

Last week, the portal was opened right after Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra announced in a news conference that the county had received its vaccine shipment.

Earlier this month, Becerra was adamant about delaying the launch of an appointment portal until the vaccines were physically in the county, he said, because shipments had been delayed and he didn't want to get the community's hopes up. But he said that his “faith” in reliable deliveries of vaccine from the state has since grown.

“As soon as I got word of them arriving on our dock, I came out to a press conference. I found no value in holding the vaccines for a week to give everyone a chance to register, because no matter what, we weren't going to get all of the 1As or 1Bs anyway,” Becerra said. “And so I thought, this is better than nothing. Let me get it out there.”

While there was an appointment-by-phone system during the first round of registrations, Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Jones said the county plans to expand that system, and that it'll have “almost three times the number of people taking calls." He encouraged people to be “neighborly” by leaving the phone lines available for those who really need it.

Becerra and many other state and county officials have emphasized that the rollout is constrained because there's high demand and a limited supply of vaccines.

Several residents and county commissioners have expressed an interest in a vaccine waitlist, especially as a way to make sure that no drop of the vaccine goes to waste. But Becerra said he doesn’t see that happening anytime “in the near future.”

He said he's spoken candidly with officials in other Texas counties to learn what their processes are like.

“I just don't find a model that fits our need," he said. "And I know that people want to be on a waitlist. But honestly, it's not going to help them if we don't have the vaccines at the end of the day."

Efforts are underway throughout the county to better circulate information about the vaccine distribution.

Volunteers and elected officials hosted a "Get Out The Vaccine" phone bank on Wednesday night to help seniors and other vulnerable populations figure out how to get a vaccine. The group included the Hays County Tejano Democrats and state Rep. Erin Zwiener, who spent part of the night driving around the county putting up flyers with vaccine information.

She said the hope was to have people from all parts of the district trying to get vaccine appointments on Friday.

"We're trying to reach out to those communities proactively,” Zwiener said to more than a dozen volunteers over a conference call. “And hopefully counteract some of the discrepancies we're seeing in who gets access to the vaccine."

Volunteers directed people both to the Hays County vaccine registration portal and to the waitlist at Austin Public Health.

Zwiener said the volunteers made about 300 calls on Wednesday.

“I think as you start making these calls you’ll see that people will appreciate just the contact,” Sandra Tenorio, chair of the Hays County Tejano Democrats, said. “They appreciate knowing that somebody out there cares.”

Got a tip? Email Riane Roldan at rroldan@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan.

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