Push to speed COVID-19 vaccine distribution creates new concerns about second dose

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Six weeks after COVID-19 vaccines first rolled into Texas and two weeks after state officials pivoted to a hub model for vaccine distribution, confusion and concern still dominate the rollout.

The vast majority of Texans are still searching for their first dose, while those lucky enough to have found that first shot worry if the second one would come in time to be effective.

"He had two bouts of cancer, he had a heart attack, diabetes," said Leon Rubenstein of the ailments suffered by his 86-year-old father, Isaak. "He has a whole slew of conditions. We don't want him to get COVID-19."

The elder Rubenstein, a Holocaust survivor, got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on New Year's Eve, when Texas was still on a decentralized distribution system. That's the method where the Texas Department of State Health Services sent vaccines to mostly private providers, pharmacies, and clinics.

Rubenstein got his first dose at Next Level Urgent Care, a Houston-based chain of clinics. Until Monday afternoon, Next Level's CEO was also worried the clinic wouldn't get the second dose.

"It's very hard as providers, we don't feel like we're in control of the situation," said Dr. Juliet Breeze, CEO of Next Level. Fortunately for Breeze, Texas officials confirmed to her that she will get her second dose for the patients she already vaccinated. However, her chain is not a hub provider, so at this point, it can not vaccinate any additional patients for their first dose.

The responsibility for large scale vaccinations has mainly fallen on public health departments and large hospital chains. This week, Texas expanded Houston-area hubs from three to six. Outlying counties also got some doses, and some smaller providers and community clinics got selective amounts. ABC13 has a full list of all the Greater Houston area's vaccine doses this week.

SEE ALSO: Track COVID-19 vaccine availability and progress across Houston

In Houston proper, the doses are as follows:

  • Baylor St. Lukes: 1,950
  • UTHealth: 1,950
  • Memorial Hermann: 3,900
  • Houston Health Department: 8,200
  • Harris County Public Health: 9,000
  • Methodist Hospital: 10,725

Of these providers, it's uncertain how many will actually make public portals available this week.

For example, UT Health officials said they are a new hub and are still developing a public portal. Baylor St. Lukes says it already has a waiting list.

Methodist, which vaccinated more than 20,000 people last week, says it is trying to balance having a public web portal with reaching out to Houstonians who don't have computers, but really need vaccines.

"It's not always those that can log in the quickest and the fastest who we need to get to with the vaccine," said Robert Schwartz, executive vice president at Methodist. "We looked at the broad array to be able to schedule appointments, not just people who can come to us. We have scheduled more vaccine appointments than even the ones allotted to us, so we're kind of managing that vaccine from moment to moment."

ABC13 expects some of the hubs to open public allocations later on this week, and we will keep you updated.

For those waiting on their second dose, experts say there are two things to remember. One, the State of Texas is sending the second doses to the place you got your first dose. So, please do not jam up phone lines with other providers. Your provider should contact you.

SEE ALSO: When can you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Find out where you are in line

Another issue with the second dose, you don't have to get it right at the 21 or 28-day mark to be effective. Experts say there is some leeway.

"I don't think you should put it off forever," said Breeze, who will begin vaccinating Next Level second doses on Wednesday. "However, you definitely shouldn't go hysterical if you don't get it on 21 days or 28 days depending on whether you got Pfizer or Moderna. Because that's really just a guideline."

Schwartz at Methodist agrees with Breeze.

"The window is probably wider on the back end than even we're thinking," he says. "I think there's no harm in a delay by a day, a week, two weeks in getting that back end vaccine."

Back home at the Rubensteins, Isaak is looking forward to his second dose. After surviving so much in 86 years, he's still got a lot of plans with his grandchildren.

On Tuesday, we'll hear more on the vaccine distribution as Gov. Greg Abbott will be visiting Houston to do a roundtable on vaccines.

Follow Miya Shay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.