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Watch: Austin Health Officials Answer Questions On The COVID-19 Vaccine

While waiting in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Delco Activity Center, Paulette Ladach tries to register online through Austin Public Health.
Julia Reihs
Paulette Ladach tries to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine through a site created by Austin Public Health.

Since providers in Central Texas began administering COVID-19 vaccines in December, many residents have been wondering who can get one, where they can get it and whether it's safe.

Health officials in Austin sought to shed some light on those questions during a virtual town hall Wednesday.

They assured those watching that the vaccine is safe and effective, but said it’s not a free pass to stop social distancing and masking. Dr. Jason Reichenberg, president of Ascension Medical Group Texas, said people are not fully immune the first few weeks after getting the vaccine.

“I’ve seen several patients who got their first vaccine and unfortunately within the first week or two got exposed to COVID and then got COVID,” he said. “Not from the vaccine – because that’s a killed vaccine and that does not have any risk – but because unfortunately they just got COVID. So, it’s very important to mask for that reason because immunity takes a while.”

Texas has authorized providers to give the vaccine to two groups so far: health care workers and first responders (phase 1A), and people 65 and older and those over 16 with underlying health conditions that could lead to complications from COVID-19 (phase 1B).

Vaccines are limited right now. The officials urged people who have a health care provider to go through them, whether that be a primary care physician or pharmacy like CVS or H-E-B. That way public entities like Austin Public Health and Central Health can focus on vulnerable groups, like those who are uninsured.

“These individuals tend not to have the ability for transportation,” said Dr. Charles Bell, vice chair of the Central Health Board of Managers. “We have areas in Eastern Travis County that are not near a Walgreens or CVS or any conveniences that individuals within the city have to get the vaccine. In many ways, Central Health and some of its clinics distributing the vaccines in those areas – this is their only opportunity or only availability of the vaccine to be delivered to them.”

The town hall comes a day after Austin Public Health launched a registration site for vaccinations. The rollout hit a technical snag Wednesday due to the high demand; users may get an error message while trying to register.

The public health authority has stressed it is focusing on uninsured and underinsured residents and that it’s following the state’s guidelines to vaccinate people in the 1A and 1B groups first. But there have beenreports that some people not in those groups received shots Tuesday when a distribution site found it had extra doses. APH Director Stephanie Hayden said Wednesday morning that going forward that won’t happen again.

The vaccines authorized in the U.S. right now require two doses to be effective. Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health, said during the town hall that the provider who gives you your first dose should schedule you for your second one as well; you won’t have to search for an available provider all over again.

“In most circumstances, that scheduling will happen before you even leave that location,” he said. “That will certainly be the case for Austin Public Health. We will reach out and offer you that second shot.”

Escott said he recognizes residents are frustrated by the limited availability of vaccines right now, but he is hopeful that doses will become more prevalent in the coming weeks, especially as the U.S. looks to authorize a third vaccine.

“We can expect vaccines are going to ramp up,” he said. “There’s a lot of frustration right now. People want to get their vaccine today. … We have to realize that four, five, six, eight weeks from now, we’re not going to be talking about such restricted availability.”

This story has been updated.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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