‘Be realistic about the timeline’: Harris County judge says vaccine rollout will be slow

HOUSTON – Harris County employees are “all hands on deck” distributing the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible, Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

“(But) we also have to be realistic about the timeline,” she added. “We just don’t have enough doses.”

The state has not been given enough doses for all elderly residents who qualify or even all qualified healthcare workers, she said.

“Harris County health is ramping up to be able to distribute ... up to 5,000 vaccines a day. Right now, we’re at 2,000,” Hidalgo said. “The limiting factor is the supply of vaccines.”

The county is ready to “ramp up” and distribute enough vaccine doses to catch up to the demand, she added. But that “may take a few months.”

“We knew that it wasn’t going to be until Spring, maybe summer, before we could have vaccines available for the general public,” she said. “That’s why I just don’t like the talk of mass vaccination, mega vaccination, because we are just not there yet. We are just distributing a small trickle of vaccines.”

The overwhelming majority of vaccine doses administered in Harris County and everywhere are given at hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, doctor’s officers and nursing homes.

City and county governments act as vaccination safety nets for COVID-19 and other vaccines.

So far, Harris County has administered more COVID-19 vaccines than any other Texas county.

Hidalgo said the county has three “roles” in the distribution:

- First, to keep track of vaccination progress in the country

- Second, to be a source of vaccine distribution

- Third, to be a “vaccinator of last resort, or a safety net” for residents who can’t get the vaccine anywhere else.

“My focus from the beginning of the pandemic has been to be realistic,” the judge said. “To not create false hope.”

Hidalgo said her team is “working on a strategy to reach ... seniors and folks in communities that may not he access to internet. That may not be there ready to click and open up.”

Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who served in that position for 11 years alongside three Houston mayors, said the city and county have responded in innovative ways to unprecedented crisis many times before, and can do so again.

“Katrina, nobody saw that coming. And yet all these people showed up and the county and the city worked together on that, very well,” Emmett said. “And we’re able to put together ... an operation that the whole world admired.”

The pandemic may be a healthcare crisis, but the former judge said the vaccine distribution challenge is largely “a logistical question.”

“That’s the kind of question that emergency management professionals deal with,” he said. “Public health officials don’t necessarily deal with that.”

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