According to Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja, the county has administered approximately 8,500 doses of the nearly 12,000 Moderna vaccines it has received. He said that 160,000 persons have registered for a vaccine administration on the county’s website, and 135,000 have been determined to be eligible.
“Clearly demand has outstripped supply,” Taneja told the commissioners court.
Several of the county commissioners said they have been receiving complaints about how the vaccine appointments are being handled, including long lines and waits well beyond appointment times.
Taneja said the challenge came from the fact that the vaccine distribution plan changed. The original plan was for Tarrant County Public Health to be just another vaccine provider. It set up a distribution site for first responders only; however, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) changed its plan and directed the health department to distribute the vaccine to anyone over age 65 or an adult with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
Exacerbating the problem further, Taneja said, was that most of this happened during the Christmas and New Year holiday period when residents didn’t show up for vaccination appointments. Then when those who missed their appointment became available after the holiday, they showed up along with those who had a vaccine appointment that day, leading to long lines.
“I’m not questioning the plans you’ve put in place,” Commissioner Devan Allen (D-Pct. 2) told Taneja. “We haven’t done a good job in managing the expectations of our residents. I have received a lot of complaints.”
Currently, the health department is able to administer about 155 to 165 vaccines per hour but would like to increase that to about 250 vaccines per hour.
“Public health is the expert in this area,” Taneja told the commissioners, asking them to give him time and patience to make adjustments, find locations, and hire additional staff.
Taneja and County Administrator G.K. Maenius are working with cities in Tarrant County to secure larger locations for vaccine distribution in order to meet the demand.
“We want to add a major [vaccine] site once a week, but we must have enough vaccines to supply the sites,” Maenius told the commissioners court.
One option is the Hurst Convention Center, which Maenius said has more indoor space and covered parking to help protect those in line against the elements. The county began working on securing that site on December 31 and has drafted an agreement with the city.
He hopes the Hurst location will be open for vaccine administration by the end of this week or early next week, but there are still details, like available manpower, to be worked out.
County Judge Glen Whitley (R) indicated that he wished for the health department to close the current vaccination location at the county’s Resource Connection in case of cold or inclement weather so that residents weren’t forced to stand out in the cold and rain as had been the case last week.
However, he seemed to settle on placing temporary shelters, port-a-potties, chairs, and outdoor heaters in the area to help keep residents more comfortable as they wait in line. Additionally, Taneja said more signage will be added showing estimated wait times and informing those with no appointment to go home and register on the website.
Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks (D-Pct. 1) wanted to ensure that the vaccine location at the Resource Connection in south Fort Worth remains open until an adequate substitute location in that vicinity with public transportation access was opened.
“It may be inadequate,” he said, “but it is better than nothing.”
Maenius indicated that the county is working on opening a larger vaccine administration location at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, which is owned by the Fort Worth Independent School District.
“We are going to aggressively move forward with these plans,” Maenius emphasized to the commissioners.
Tarrant County Public Health Department is not the only provider of vaccines in the area. The DSHS website has a provider locator map, that includes hospitals, pharmacies, and medical offices.
According to DSHS, 59,875 vaccine doses have been delivered to Tarrant County and 19,568 have been administered by all forms of providers so far.