COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites closed indefinitely on February 12 as Austin, Texas—and much of the U.S.—braced for brutal cold and snow. A reopening date remained uncertain more than a week later.
“We know these are challenging times as our staff, their families, and our entire community are grappling with issues caused by the weather,” said Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard. “We assure you that as soon as we can safely give the vaccine again, we will notify the public.”
Austin plans to prioritize individuals needing second doses when vaccinations resume, though public health officials reassured those who have received their first dose that “there is flexibility allowed between doses without losing effectiveness.” Individuals with cancelled appointments will be contacted to reschedule, but those waiting for their first dose will need greater patience.
Reopening will depend on weather conditions as well as restoration of power and access to safe water across the city and state, all of which steadily improved over the weekend, and the arrival of doses scheduled for shipment during the storm. The Texas Department of Health Services reported on February 19 that 100,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses scheduled for delivery during the storm had been held back and would likely arrive early the week of February 22. Then they doses will need to be sent on to pharmacies, public health agencies, and other providers for administration, adding more time before shots go into arms.
The situation in Austin is a microcosm of the impact of the Arctic blast in many states. All told, the storms delayed delivery of more than six million doses with every state affected to some degree, said Andy Slavitt, senior advisor on the White House COVID-19 Response Team during a briefing on February 19. While sites in states less affected by the deep freeze continued to administer vaccinations using doses on hand, more than 2,000 others saw their doses withheld and facilities shut down because of concerns about the ability to maintain appropriate temperatures amid power outages. Thousands of other sites were unable to obtain scheduled doses because of transportation challenges posed by the inclement weather.
Slavitt expected the delayed doses to be delivered along with scheduled doses during the week of February 22. He asked pharmacies and other vaccination sites to extend their hours and expand availability of appointments saying, “[i]f we all work together, from the factory, all the way to the vaccinators, we will make up for it in the coming week.”
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