Answers to the top 13 questions asked during our Ask 2 Town Hall on coronavirus vaccine

A panel of experts answers questions about the coronavirus vaccine during an Ask 2 Town Hall on Jan. 13, 2021.
A panel of experts answers questions about the coronavirus vaccine during an Ask 2 Town Hall on Jan. 13, 2021. (KPRC)

KPRC 2 is always working to get answers to your questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Community leaders and health experts came together for an Ask 2 Town Hall about the vaccine. From distribution to safety to effectiveness, the panel answered lots of questions that were sent in by viewers.

Here are the top questions and answers from the Ask 2 Town Hall.

1. How do people who do not have insurance or go to a doctor get the shot?

“This vaccine is free,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “So, it’s not costing any money. It does not matter if you have insurance. If anyone is trying to charge you for the vaccine, this is a no, no.”

2. What if someone needs help with transportation to get the vaccine?

Turner and Stephen Williams, director of the Houston Health Department and a member of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, talked about efforts to get the vaccine to people who can’t leave their homes. Both said officials are learning as they go and adjusting each day as new needs arise.

“We are trying to deal with the distribution like we have done with testing,” Turner said. “That is, we have fixed sites throughout the city. We are also trying to also set up mobile sites. All of this is contingent on the availability of the vaccine.”

3. It appears that the big voting areas are getting the vaccines at a disproportional rate at the expense of smaller counties. Is this the case?

It might seem like the largest areas of the state are getting the most vaccine. This has to do with the way the distribution is set up, with health care workers being first in line. Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner of the Department of State Health Service and chair of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, explained.

“We have a targeted population to receive vaccinations across the state,” Garcia said. “Our first priority was to protect our healthcare workers. Of course, the largest areas across the state focused on the largest communities. With the pivot to the broader population, we are doing a larger outreach to the smaller communities.”

“Until we get more vaccine supply the available will still be sparse across the state in general,” she added. “We get more and more vaccines every week and that will continue to happen every week. We continue to push out more vaccinations to smaller communities across the state”

4. Who is monitoring how these vaccines are given out?

Several viewers asked questions about what happens after a certain place is given the vaccines to give to the public. How do we really know they are following the rules and guidelines? Garcia said that when a business receives an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines it is up to them to follow the guidelines for distribution.

“We do expect all of our COVID-19 providers to follow the state guidelines on who is eligible for the vaccine,” she said.

5. I’ve got the first dose. How do I schedule a second shot?

Williams said not to worry, you will be able to get your second vaccine within the window given.

“Those people who got their shots through the city of Houston will be contacted and either given a location or place on where to get the second shot,” Willimas said. “We will be in contact with you. We are making specific plans on how to get ahold of you.”

6. I am very worried and can’t find where to get a vaccine. How do I find it?

Williams said there is help available and they have made it a priority to make other options available for registering for a vaccine other than just going online.

  1. You can call the Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301. This line is specifically for seniors. Seniors will get help to navigate through the system to set up an appointment. He says there are a lot of people calling so be patient and try again if you can’t get through.
  2. You can also call 832-393-4220. This call center can also help you navigate the system.
  3. A third option is to check online at houstonemergency.org

Williams said each time they get a shipment of vaccines, there is high demand.

“When we did that on Saturday with our 1,000 slots, that was filled within 15 minutes,” he said. “That should give you an idea of the demand in the Houston area.”

7. How is Kroger distributing the vaccine?

Dr. Marla Fielder, director of pharmacy for Kroger, weighed in on how pharmacies are dealing with distributing vaccines. Just like everywhere else, they are busy and planning on the go.

“All of the vaccines we have received have already been allocated to many 1A workers and then we have quite a few 1B patients that have received their vaccine as well,” Fielder said. “It will need to be by appointment. That is due to the viability of the product.”

8. Why is there a discrepency between the number of doses a provider has versus the number of doses they have in reserve?

Garcia explained what these numbers mean.

“Right now, both of the brands of vaccine that we have available to us require two doses,” she said. “So, there are allocations that are made for the first dose. In that case, we don’t want any of those doses placed on a shelf.”

However, they have a separate allocation for those people that received it the first time and they need to get it a second time. Those are dedicated to ensure those who had it earlier get a chance to get the full dosage of the vaccine.

If you have any questions about the vaccine doses, you should reach out to your provider to get the current availably.

9. Should you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re infected?

Dr. James McCarthy, of Memorial Hermann, said you should not get the COVID-19 vaccine while you are actively infected with the virus.

“It is important to receive the vaccine even if you have been infected previously,” McCarthy said. “The immune response produced by the vaccine is much more robust than what the natural response would be.”

10. Should I take the vaccine even if I still have COVID-19 symptoms?

“Those symptoms that are lasting longer are not related to active viral infection, this is just lingering effects from having COVID,” McCarthy said. “So, yes, you should receive the vaccine even if you are still dealing with the lasting effects of the illness.”

11. If I’ve already had COVID-19 do I still have to take the vaccine?

Yes. All our experts on the panel agreed everyone should get the vaccine even if they have had COVID-19 before.

“It is important to receive the vaccine, even if you have been infected previously, because the immune response that is induced by the vaccine is much more robust than just natural infection,” Dr. Ashley Drews, an infectious disease expert with Houston Methodist. “So, we do recommend that all persons are vaccinated whether they have had natural infection in the past or not, but we do not recommend that you get the vaccine while you are actively infected.”

12. If you have the first shot in the vaccine, could that create a false positive?

McCarthy said the antibodies created by the vaccine will not trigger a false positive in a COVID-19 test.

13. Mayor, what would you say to people about the vaccine?

“I read those numbers every day,” Turner said. “People of color, African Americans and Hispanics, are showing up quite a bit in the numbers. I’d rather take my chances with the vaccine than take my chances with the virus. Too many people have gotten sick. Too many people have died, especially African Americans and Hispanics. There’s a huge demand and a lot of people who are wanting the vaccine. Don’t be late. Don’t put it off.”

The panel

Here’s a brief look at the experts who participated in our Ask 2 Town Hall.

  • Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
  • Imelda Garcia is an associate commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) Division for Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services. Garcia also serves as the chair of the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.
  • Stephen Williams is the Director for the Houston Health Department. He joined the City of Houston as the director in 2004. He also serves on several boards of community, professional and civil rights organizations.
  • Dr. Ashley Drews is a specialist in Infectious Diseases at Houston Methodist.
  • Dr. James McCarthy is the Chief Physician Executive at Memorial Hermann Health System. Dr. McCarthy is coordinating all of the vaccine efforts for the hospital.
  • Dr. Marla Fielder is the director of pharmacy for Kroger.
  • Dr. Julie Boom is the Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Immunization project and serves as co-chair of TCH’s COVID vaccine task force.

Watch it again

You can watch a replay of our hourlong town hall below.

Follow the latest coronavirus vaccine headlines and submit your questions about the vaccine at Click2Houston.com/vaccine.