HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houstonians actively searching for COVID-19 vaccine appointments were surprised to find some availability rolling out at local pharmacies.
This bit of good news comes even as COVID-19 variants found in South Africa and United Kingdom are now confirmed to be in the Greater Houston region.
The Houston Health Department said the two cases of the UK variant were both men in their 50s. One of them traveled overseas in late December and into January, while travel info of the other case was not immediately disclosed. One of the men is in the hospital.
Meanwhile, Houstonians who have scoured the internet for vaccine appointments got some good news Monday.
Buzz Bellmont, 65, was able to sign up himself and his husband on the Sam's Club pharmacy website after days of trying.
"I've been (looking) online like every day," said Bellmont. "(Monday) was the first day I could get through and I got my husband and I appointments for Friday."
That Sam's Club information was quickly posted by Laurie DesAutels, who created an open Vaccinate Houston Facebook page as sort of a clearinghouse for the various links that are out there to get appointments.
"A lot of members are just like me, who have a mother, a grandmother, and they're wanting to sign them up," said DesAutels, who has a background in computer work and is focusing on the project as sort of a community service. "I have enjoyed being a nerd on the computer for many years. So for me, it's going back to being Texas Strong and Houston Strong, helping each other."
Besides Sam's Club, a number of other pharmacies in our region are expected to offer appointments starting this week. CVS, for example, is expected to start open enrollment on Thursday with vaccination appointments starting Friday.
Those who qualify to get a vaccine currently are also encouraged to check for availability at Kroger, Walgreens, H-E-B, Walmart and Randalls.
Signing up for vaccines among qualified individuals is important because health officials say the UK variant is likely spreading in our community.
"We must assume the UK variant is spreading in our city," the health department tweeted, adding a reminder that the variant doesn't necessarily make people sicker. "The vaccines appear to be effective against the UK variant, but it will be months before enough people are vaccinated to make a difference."
Last month, Harris County, which Houston is a part of, identified its first case of the UK variant.
As for the South African variant, the city of Houston's regular coronavirus briefing had a visit from Fort Bend County Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Minter who confirmed a resident from her county was confirmed for the strain. The male sickened with the variant has recovered.
And in a bit of misfortune in the city's effort to vaccinate as many people as possible now, officials don't expect to offer additional appointments for the vaccines.
Turner originally planned to use his coronavirus briefing on Monday to ask local hospitals to share their supply of vaccines from the state with the local health departments and Harris Health System so more minorities have a chance at getting the shots.
WATCH: Houston identifies 1st COVID-19 cases with UK variant
He said right now, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians are not being vaccinated at nearly the same rate as white residents, and he said he wants that to change, especially after noticing the death rates of minorities.
The city of Houston's Health Department said Hispanics have accounted for 55% of COVID-19 deaths, compared to 21% of Blacks, 18% of whites, and 5.5% of Asians.
Across the country, the CDC data shows that, compared to whites, Hispanics are 1.7 times more likely to get COVID-19, four times more likely to end up in the hospital, and almost three times as likely to die.
A study from the University of Houston found that one-third of Texans are likely to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, and that reluctance is found to be especially true among communities of color.
SEE RELATED STORY: New numbers show Black, Hispanic communities under-vaccinated
Turner said more than 88% of the vaccines received by Harris Health currently go to people of color, so he's going to private hospitals to share their doses.
SEE RELATED: How access paired with distrust is impacting Hispanic communities getting COVID-19 vaccine