HOUSTON – Houston area hospitals and clinics that offer COVID-19 vaccinations are currently evaluating how to prioritize patients who qualify to receive a vaccine under Phase 1B of the state’s rollout.
Phase 1B includes residents who are 65-years-old and older and people with serious conditions who are at greater risk for serious effects from the coronavirus.
A broad group and area doctors said Thursday part of the rollout will include prioritizing which patients they will contact to be vaccinated. They can’t do so in one fell swoop for a simple reason: Texas doesn’t have enough doses of either version of the vaccine for everyone under 1B. Doctors said supply has not yet caught up with demand.
“Phase 1B can be interpreted differently by different people. It is very broad. When you say pre-existing conditions, I mean, a lot of us have pre-existing conditions,” said Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief medical officer at United Memorial Medical Center.
“It’s going to be up to the doctor in charge to make that decision to do a triage to decide who gets it and who doesn’t get it on this round,” Varon continued.
Varon’s hospital received 300 doses of Moderna’s vaccine in the first round of distribution. Following word of Phase 1B being introduced, Varon said he’s received thousands of inquiries.
“I probably have 500 emails in the last 24 hours of people who say, ‘hey can you somehow put us ahead of or on top of the list’” Varon said adding that’s something he would not do.
“I’ve had people call me and tell me they would offer me $10,000 for one vaccine. I’m serious. I know it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen everywhere. Not just here,” Varon said.
Phones at local pharmacies have been ringing off the hook too.
“We have been getting many phone calls from our regular customers but we have been telling them that we are strictly following state guidelines on the administration,” said Jeenal Nihalani, the immunization coordinator for H-E-B Houston region.
H-E-B remains in Phase 1A, vaccinating healthcare workers solely, by appointment only.
“Right now they can call the pharmacy and they can schedule an appointment. We can write down the information. The pharmacies have been given guidance to try and set up appointments in groups of ten just because of the short shelf life that the vaccine has we want to make sure that — this is like liquid gold let’s say. We don’t want to waste any doses,” Nihalani said.
Houston Methodist said Thursday certain patients will soon start getting notifications to schedule appointments for their coronavirus shot.
According to a plan posted on the hospital system’s website, patients who have seen a primary care or specialty care physician in the last two years will be eligible to receive the vaccine before the general public.
Officials said they will soon start notifying patients via a text message in the following order:
- Patients who are 75 or older.
- Patients who are 65 to 74 years old.
- Patients who are younger than 65 and have at least one Class 1 condition or at least two Class 2 comorbid conditions.
Class 1 conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiac conditions (congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy), obesity (BMI 30+), pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, solid organ transplant, Type I or II diabetes mellitus.
Class 2 conditions include asthma, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive agents.
The vaccine was first rolled out to frontline health care workers and people in long-term care facilities as part of Phase 1A.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services said vaccine providers can begin administering the vaccine to people in Phase 1B.
Officials have said anyone who believes they fall into either of the groups should contact their health care provider to determine whether they can get the vaccine.
Memorial Hermann also plans to begin contacting patients. However, the hospital system remains in Phase 1A of the vaccination rollout.
For 1B they’ll have to prioritize who gets vaccinated because of limited supply.
“We’re going to have to be very intentional about who we reach out to initially. So we will be reaching out to our patients and it will be by a scheduled process only,” said Dr. James McCarthy, the chief physician executive at Memorial Hermann.
McCarthy said as the hospital receives additional doses they will expand access with a goal of offering drive-through vaccination sites, similar to testing.
Varon hopes to do the same.
“This is supply and demand dependent. I am hoping that in the first few weeks of January this issue will be resolved and we have enough vaccine for most people that want to get it,” Dr. Varon said.
Dr. James McCarthy, chief physician executive at Memorial Hermann Hospital, provides insights on the status of the coronavirus pandemic in Houston and how the vaccine will be rolled out.