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Harris County Ends Vaccine ‘Megasites,’ Opting For More Locations, Greater Diversity

people lined up at a vaccination site
Julia Reihs
A large vaccination site in Travis County. Harris County, on the other hand, is moving away from the state's "megasite" model in an effort to reach a wider range of people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

From Texas Standard:

Harris County is changing the way it manages distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. After problems with the state’s hub model, in which thousands of doses go to regional locations across the state, the county is adding several smaller vaccination sites and dispersing its allotment of doses among them.

Houston Chronicle reporter Zach Despart told Texas Standard that the county is changing its strategy because the “megasite” model was inefficient: lines were too long and not everyone could easily access Houston's Minute Maid Park location.

“They are opting instead for smaller sites spread throughout the city and county that offer a more targeted approach where you can reach perhaps harder to get to populations, and also have enough doses to spread out throughout the week,” Despart said.

The county is also trying something else new: picking eligible vaccine candidates at random from a waitlist. Despart says it’s an effort to vaccinate a broader range at people in the Phase 1A and 1B categories.

“The county is saying, ‘You know what, that doesn’t make sense for people who are working during the day or just have incredibly busy lives. Let’s spread it out; let’s look this at random so we get a good group of people that are diverse who are getting the vaccine,'” he said.

But even with these strategies, the overarching problem is that there are still too few doses being distributed. Harris County and the city of Houston together receive about 9,000 doses per week, Despart says. Harris County’s population is about 4.7 million. And Despart doesn’t expect the vaccine to reach the general public until about May or June.

“We’re really in this for the long haul,” he said.

Despart says vaccine scarcity has even contributed to possible charges of theft by a public servant, after a Harris County doctor gave an soon-expiring dose of the vaccine to his wife – who was eligible – after failing to find anyone at his vaccination site to give it to.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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