HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With COVID-19 infections on the rise across southeast Texas, concerns are growing over the slow start to vaccine distribution and whether those already immunized will be able to get their second dose in time.
Eyewitness News anchor Erik Barajas gathered leaders from Houston and Harris County Tuesday night for a town hall answering your concerns.
More than 400 viewers submitted questions for our panelists, which included:
- Mayor Sylvester Turner, City of Houston
- Dr. David Persse, Houston Health Authority
- Dr. Peter Hotez, Baylor College National School of Tropical Medicine dean
- Dr. Sherri Onyiego, Harris County Public Health local health authority
As the Texas Medical Center braces for a surge of COVID-19 cases following the holidays, the urgency is growing for everyone to play their part.
"We're getting to 4,000 deaths per day. This is a slaughter right now and the only thing we know, other than the masks and the social distancing that's going to save your life, is these vaccines," Dr. Hotez said. "So if you care about yourself and your loved ones, you want to make this a priority to get yourself vaccinated."
Dozens of viewers expressed worry for seniors in our region Tuesday night, describing confusion and frustration over the process of getting a vaccine appointment for their loved ones.
"If you consider how much vaccine is coming into Harris County, it's a single digit percentage of the entire population," Dr. Persse said. "We all had anticipated... demand was going to outpace the supply at some point, and the supply will catch up, it will catch up."
We also heard from viewers like Kelli, a health care worker in Pasadena, Texas, and John and Elizabeth, a West Houston couple, all fortunate enough to have received their first doses of the vaccine last week.
As federal officials move to release all available vaccine doses and open access to anyone over 65, all three said they were anxious they won't get follow-up appointments in time.
Persse said as the region awaits the release of more vaccines, infrastructure is being prepared that will speed up distribution to those in need, whether it's a first or second dose.
Viewers also pressed officials on whether enough is being done to prevent people from jumping the line to get vaccinated before their phase is called.
While some appointments may have been taken by those outside Phases 1A and 1B, both Turner and Dr. Onyiego expressed confidence that a majority of those vaccinated are essential workers or in high-risk categories, including nurses and residents in long-term care facilities.
"What we don't want to do is slow the process down by going through a lot of bureaucratic red tape," Mayor Turner said Tuesday night. "What we do know is that we need as many people to get vaccinated as possible, so it's pretty much on an honor system."
As people await their opportunity to get vaccinated, all our panelists emphasized everyone must do what they can to protect themselves and those they love.
This includes maintaining social distancing, washing your hands and wearing masks.
"Our behavior is so critically important. If we can all come together, then we can block the progression of this virus," Turner said, waving a can of Lysol on camera, before adding, "Stay out of the club."
If you missed the town hall, a full replay is now available on ABC13.com, our news app and our four ABC13 Connected TV apps on Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV and Android TV.