Austin and Travis County’s top health officials on Tuesday urged residents to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine after thousands of Austin Public Health appointments went unscheduled Monday.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said that about 10,600 vaccine appointments went unscheduled Monday night after Austin Public Health made nearly 14,000 available to the public.
Austin Public Heath officials planned again to post available appointments to anyone 18 and older on Tuesday evening, and likely the remaining evenings this week if not all vaccines are immediately scheduled, according to Austin Public Health spokesperson Matt Lara.
Residents who want a vaccine through Austin Public Health should sign into the scheduling portal at 5:45 p.m. on the days that appointments are dropped this week. Those who sign in at 5:45 p.m. will then at 6 p.m. be mixed up at random and placed into a virtual waiting room where they can schedule an appointment.
Anyone who signs into the Austin Public Health website after 6 p.m. will be sent to the back of the line, according to Lara. However, those at the back of the line in recent days have still been able to secure an appointment because of the decrease in demand.
Austin Public Health officials said it’s unclear why so many vaccine appointments went unscheduled Monday. However, Hayden-Howard said health leaders are now discussing plans to focus more on bringing vaccines to harder-to-reach communities if the demand for vaccines continue to drop this week.
Escott and Hayden-Howard on Tuesday said some residents may not want or have the means to travel across the city for a coronavirus appointment, so Austin Public Health will consider moving away from having mass vaccination sites and instead stand up smaller clinics in underserved areas.
Austin and Travis County health leaders think that, best-case scenario, the area is about halfway to reaching herd immunity. Escott said data shows that about 46% of adult residents (almost 600,000 people) are still vulnerable to the coronavirus until they get vaccinated.
However, Escott said the data is likely not fully accurate because people who are immune to the disease from past infection but also received a coronavirus vaccine may be counted twice in the “herd immunity” projections.
“I think the message from Director Hayden-Howard, that we have vaccine appointments left over, should indicate to folks that they don’t have to wait,” Escott said, adding that pharmacies at H-E-B, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart also have regularly been receiving doses. “You can schedule and get it this week. Get your shot.”
Austin Public Health leaders on Tuesday said the agency immediately stopped distributing Johnson & Johnson vaccines after federal health officials on Tuesday recommended a pause “out of an abundance of caution” because of a few cases of rare but dangerous blood clots.
More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the United States. But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are concerned about the vaccine. They are reviewing data from six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot — cerebral venous sinus thrombosis — in women aged 18 to 48 who received the J&J vaccine. Symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.
The American-Statesman requested data on how many Johnson & Johnson doses Austin Public Health had distributed so far and how many are now going unused, but that information was not immediately available Tuesday. Hayden-Howard did say, though, that Austin Public Health received about 1,000 doses of that vaccine last week.
“Luckily, the majority of vaccine Austin Pubic health receives and administers is Moderna, so we have a very small number of doses that we’ve given of Johnson & Johnson, and that we have of Johnson & Johnson,” Escott said.
“Importantly, individuals who have a severe headache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, or pain or significant swelling in their legs or a leg within three weeks following the vaccine should contact their health care provider immediately,” he continued, adding that Austin Public Health will release more information on Johnson & Johnson vaccines once available.
USA Today contributed to this report.