Chris Bennett spent much of Tuesday afternoon on the phone trying to find a vaccine provider for his parents and himself.
“I called H-E-B. I called St. David’s. I called Seton. And I called Austin Regional Clinic,” he said.
Each one told him that he and his parents couldn’t get a vaccine from them.
The Texas Department of State Health Services released guidance on Tuesday saying that vaccine providers should be serving patients in the so-called Phase 1B group now. That group includes people ages 65 and older and people above the age of 16 who have underlying health conditions that could lead to COVID-19 complications. Bennett and his parents fall into that group.
“It was pretty frustrating, the fact that nobody seems to know what’s going on,” he said. “The people I was talking to also seemed pretty frustrated because they seemed equally in the dark. It just seems like there was a lot of confusion and lack of coordination.”
On Tuesday, Texas DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt released a statement saying: “All providers that have received COVID-19 vaccine must immediately vaccinate healthcare workers, Texans over the age of 65, and people with medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19. No vaccine should be kept in reserve.”
Still, on Wednesday providers, including H-E-B, told patients they would only be serving people who fall into the Phase 1A group, which includes health care workers and other first responders.
The messaging here is very confusing, given the statements this evening from Hellerstedt & Abbott. I called an @HEB in SA this evening for my mom, who falls under the new phase. Pharmacist said 1) H E B is out of vaccines in SA + 2) they still have a long waitlist from phase 1A. https://t.co/zGeOfnOQw7
— Matt Worthington (@mrworthington) December 30, 2020
However, a staffer at KUT/X said they were able to schedule a vaccination for their mother at the H-E-B on Burnet Road in Austin. But when the staffer went to make an appointment for themself, the pharmacist would not schedule it, even though they had a qualifying medical condition.
Austin Regional Clinic set up a website to screen and schedule patients for vaccination last week, though the site was not allowing patients to schedule an appointment based on the Phase 1B criteria as of Wednesday.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Ascension Seton said it would remain focused on the 1A group.
A significant portion of vaccines distributed across Texas might be sitting on hospital shelves as opposed to being given to vulnerable Texans
The state urges vaccine providers to quickly provide all shots. We get plenty more each week
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 29, 2020
On Christmas Eve, Hellerstedt sent a letter to vaccine providers saying there had been “unnecessary delays” in administering and reporting vaccines that had been delivered to the providers. He wrote that “every day a vaccine sits on the shelf is another day that prolongs the pandemic that is hindering our state’s economy and way of life.”