Thousands of Houston residents were grateful to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday at Minute Med Park, even if they had to wash their hands for parking and wait an hour and a half at the stand.
After receiving 8,200 doses of shipment to the state on Thursday, Mayor Sylvester Turner called his “mega” vaccination site at Astro’s home. Health workers originally moved appointments to the Bayou City Event Center, picked up some future slots and booked 2,600 new people – all of which were claimed in 16 minutes on Friday.
Health crews delivered more than 6,100 shots by the end of the day, a rally that surpassed the city’s target of more than 5,000 and officials said it exceeded the area’s other sites. Memorial Harman expects about 13,000 people to attend its four-day event at NRG Stadium.
The city vaccinated about 3,600 during a test run in Minute Maid last week, which was also made possible by a week’s shipment of the Moderna vaccine.
“We’re trying to provide the vaccine to as many people as possible,” Turner said after visiting the site. “I think most people are very satisfied with what is happening today, and from all indications I think people understand that things are moving along smoothly.”
Most of the recipients spoke in bright words of the operation, although there were some logical hiccups. In the morning there were long lines for parking, which stood on the streets around the stadium, and also some long waiting times inside the stadium. Some people booking appointments said they did not receive a confirmation email. And the city said it was not able to reach all those who had appointments in Beau City to alert them to the change of venue. Health workers said they would accommodate those if they eventually missed their appointment.
For most, however, the occasion marked a trail of optimism against the epidemic that lasts here for 11 months.
Claudia Stevens said she was “very impressed” with the site. Herbert Yuan said it went “well, given the number of people.” And Chris McNeill, who was drafted for the chilly season, said the shot was worth the wait of half an hour.
“Stuff happens, and we’re just thankful that everyone is here and ready to work with us and we’re getting these vaccines,” McNeil said, opening his jacket to reveal the Dolly Parton shirt. “It was well run. I really don’t have any complaints after waiting for this time.
The city has received 30,000 doses of the vaccine and more than 21,000 doses. Of those recipients, 52 percent are male and 47 percent are female. Preliminary health department statistics. Whites account for 41 percent of shots, while 22 percent are for Hispanic, 19 percent for black residents and 16 percent for Asians.
According to Census Bureau data, the city of Houston is 57 percent white, 45 percent Hispanic, 22.6 percent black, and 6.8 percent Asian.
For some, the frustration of waiting was boiled over. As Turner was making his way to the bleachers, where people were waiting, a man stood up and asked him to fix the long wait-time.
“Fix it, sir,” the man said to the mayor. “If you sit and be patient, we’ll fix it,” Turner answered. “I’m tired of being patient,” the man said.
Former Chronicle reporter Houston resident Sarah Kress gave a live running account of her experience Twitter. He said that he is being directed into circles to find parking.
“The most disappointing part was the traffic,” Cress said. “I was in town with my car for about an hour and a half.”
The wait inside was easy, about half an hour, though he said that when he first entered the building it was difficult to keep his distance from the other people waiting. They were then taken to the bleachers where they could go out, and messages on the public announcement system encouraged social distance.
“I haven’t been close to people in a year,” said Cress, who said the workers were very kind and high-spirited. “I know they are doing their best.”
Turner asked to be patient and said that the city was doing its best to get out of logical obstacles. On balance, he said, he was very impressed with the operation and its wide reach of 5,000 people was admirable.
“When you’re trying to provide vaccines on such a large scale, it requires a lot of logistics, very heavy lifting, but we’re getting it done,” Turner said. “The task is to get these vaccines out as soon as possible so that they do not sit outside on the shelves. I can assure you that they are not sitting on the shelves. It is a heavy lift, it is a big operation. You may have glitches every now and then.
He said the disparate nature of vaccine disbursements from the federal government complicates matters, forcing city officials to work on the fly. US Rape Sheila Jackson Lee, who was also present, said she is pushing the incoming Biden administration to allocate vaccine shipments directly to the cities.
“When you don’t know what you’re getting, and you don’t know when you’re going to get it, it’s hard to plan accordingly,” Turner said.
The city remodeled the layout inside Minute Maid from last week to make it more efficient. People were shown outside and then allowed to enter the first-floor convention near the Love Street bar, which usually sold beer to baseball fans. They were then taken to the stand to wait, and eventually return to the concourse to get their shots outside of Jackson Street BBQ and other first-floor eateries.
“We are just hanging things up,” a health worker said late morning helping people.
The site closed on Saturday evening, with health department officials saying they could not accommodate the number of people waiting in line. Officials said in a news release that they still name people waiting for reschedule appointments.
Other cities have faced similar or worse hurdles in setting up their sites. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Austenites were disappointed when people tried to register a portal launched by the city’s public health agency. According to Dallas News, Dallas residents had trouble with confirmation notices and when they received them, they were not told where to go.
Going to get shots
The city will announce new appointments when available. Residents can monitor the department’s Twitter account or sign up for push notifications by registering for the HoustonRecovers option of AlertHouston.org.