Not all public vaccine hubs in the Houston-area are available to the public

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- We're seven weeks into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and several things are abundantly clear:

  • There's not enough doses to meet the demand
  • The focus is now on public vaccine hubs
  • Not all "hubs" are the same

First, the good news: A day after Harris County Public Health opened an online waitlist, the registration website is fully functioning, and more than 90,000 Texans have registered on the weighted, randomized list.

SEE ALSO: Harris Co. COVID-19 vaccine waitlist operating again after earlier error

You can register on the county's website.

Harris County officials said it takes its role as a public vaccine hub seriously, and welcomes everyone to register, as long as people realize that not everyone will get a dose right away.

"We have had several people from surrounding counties come and we do not turn anyone away," said Jennifer Kiter of Harris County Public Health. "Since we are a hub, as required by the state, we are required to and we want to allow people to get vaccinated across the community."

The reality is none of the designated hubs in Harris County, or anywhere in our surrounding region, have enough doses to meet demand, but residents appreciate it when hub operators make some effort to be publicly accessible.

SEE ALSO: Houston-area counties using COVID-19 vaccine waitlists to manage demand

The city of Houston, Houston Methodist Hospitals, and CHI St. Luke's have all offered public options for people to sign up for vaccines. Among the Harris County hubs, UT Health is the only one to not offer any opportunity for members of the general public to sign up for vaccines. In response to questions from ABC13, UT Health responded with the following statement:

"UT Physicians has 290,000 unique patients who qualify for all tiers. Of those in Phase 1A and 1B, because of documented comorbidities that put them at higher risk, UT Physicians has 99,000 of the 290K patients who qualify. We have received only 7,800 doses for patients, of which 3,900 were received yesterday. We open schedules for UT Physicians patients as we receive the vaccine. We continue to invite patients as we go down the list based on the algorithm provided to us by the Federal Government."

When ABC13 pointed out all other hubs had some form of public access while also having not enough doses, the UT Health spokesperson said that all UT Health patients are also members of the public and UT just had a different system.

SEE ALSO: Your latest COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

In contrast, on Wednesday morning, Memorial Hermann opened up 4,000 public slots. They were all booked in an hour. The vaccines will be administered in a drive-thru fashion at NRG Stadium on Thursday.

"From the beginning, we have said it will take months," said Memorial Hermann executive vice president Dr. James McCarthy. "We still have very limited supply, [that's why we are focusing on 65 and over.] It's very easy for us to adjudicate, we don't have to ask them for medical records, so we just chose to do that at this point."

Besides the official hubs, several other large hospital systems in the greater Houston area have received significant vaccine doses, but are not required to offer any to the public at large.

According to our review of the Sstate of Texas' vaccine allocation data, here are the largest recipients of vaccine doses through the past seven weeks with no requirement to make any doses publicly available.

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center: 27,250 doses
  • Texas Children's Hospitals: 36,825 doses
  • HCA Healthcare Houston area hospitals: 13,650 doses

All three hospital systems issued statements to ABC13 detailing the lack of enough supplies to meet demand.

"I've signed up everywhere," said Cheryl Rader, a 71-year-old Spring resident who is frustrated by the lack of uniform information on vaccine allotment. "I'm somewhat adapted to the computer, but some people can't. I check every day and it changes every day."

So in essence, residents of Greater Houston are left with four major sources of publicly available COVID-19 vaccines: City of Houston Public Health Department, Harris County Public Health, Methodist Hospitals, and Memorial Hermann.

St. Lukes is offering public access, but it is a little smaller in scale and does not have as many doses. Neighboring counties, such as Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, and Montgomery counties, do offer some availability, but the quantities, for now, are limited.

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

According to the state of Texas database, there are some smaller hospitals and clinics getting vaccines, but the smaller providers are difficult to access for the average person who rely on a robust phone and web system to sign up.

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