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Houston expands its vaccine wait-list as FEMA site helps clear backlog

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 3/1/2021 By Dylan McGuinness, Staff writer
a group of people standing in a parking lot: Military personnel check on patients during their post-vaccination waiting period at a Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 vaccination super site at NRG Park last month. City officials said Monday the site is helping them work through their backlog, allowing it to expand a waitlist for the vaccine. © Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Military personnel check on patients during their post-vaccination waiting period at a Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 vaccination super site at NRG Park last month. City officials said Monday the site is helping them work through their backlog, allowing it to expand a waitlist for the vaccine.

Houston is expanding its wait-list for the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone currently eligible for the shots, as the federally-run site at NRG Park helps the city and county work through their backlogs.

The NRG site, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, aims to give 6,000 shots a day — 3,000 for city applicants and 3,000 for the county.

“With the (supply) of NRG being 3,000 a day, that significant increase resulted in our needing to expand our reach,” said Stephen Williams, director of the city’s Health Department.

The city previously only accepted seniors and people over 60 with qualifying high-risk conditions. Now, its wait-list is open to seniors and anyone over 16 at high risk, according to the distribution guidelines set by the state.

Those interested can enroll at houstonemergency.org/covid-19-vaccines or by calling 832-393-4220. Seniors also may enroll by calling the Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301. People with disabilities can call 832-393-5500.

The county’s wait-list, meanwhile, is open to anyone — although those who do not yet qualify for the vaccine will not get an appointment until they do. Residents can enroll on the county’s website.

Roughly 70,000 people previously enrolled on the city’s wait-list. The city has vaccinated about 30,000 of them, Williams said, and is scheduling another 27,000. The director said many people sign up for multiple wait-lists, which means some people on the city’s list have been vaccinated elsewhere.

The city will get its first shipment of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday, when 6,000 shots are delivered to the NRG site. The city is seeking to redirect those shots to one of its other, independent sites.

Williams said the city is exploring launching a separate wait-list for that vaccine. Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, said it is worth getting if you can.

“The best vaccine you can get is the one that you can get,” Persse said. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highly effective.”

That vaccine only requires one shot and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday after trials found it was 66.9 percent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 cases at least 14 days after the single dose. It was 72 percent effective in the United States, but the percentage dipped slightly in countries where more contagious variants of the virus have spread more widely.

dylan.mcguinness@chron.com

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