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ETX health leader shares next phase for vaccines

"At one time 80% of the vaccine doses were going to these hubs. Now, that's only about 45%," Dr. Paul McGaha.

TYLER, Texas — When vaccines first began rolling out across East Texas, the Harvey Convention Center and UT Health Science Center were designated as vaccine hubs. The goal for the hubs is to provide more people the vaccine and a simpler way to sign up for an appointment.  

Nearly 7.3 million Texans are fully vaccinated, according to the State Department of Health Services (DSHS). However, over the last few weeks appointments at the vaccine sites have been going unfilled across the state and in most East Texas counties only 20-30% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Paul McGaha, the Smith County Health Authority is also on the state's vaccine allocation panel and said the focus is now moving away from hubs and bringing the vaccine to people.

"At one time 80% of the vaccine doses were going to these hubs," he explained. "Now, that's only about 45%. So, we're less reliant on hubs and... we are branching out to community clinics and churches, and community centers, chambers of commerce, wherever that might be, trying to take the vaccine to people."

He said the state is also working on ways to get COVID-19 vaccines to more providers like physician's offices, health clinics and other places to "distribute it normally, like we would any vaccines."

With eligibility for a shot open to anyone 16 and older in Texas, McGaha said now the state's in a transitioning phase. Most people who were at risk for COVID and excited about a vaccine have received it, leaving appointments empty as hesitancy lingers for others.

“We're (health officials) thinking with more communication, or conversation, some of those people who are on the fence, and if they talk to their physician or others and receive reliable information, will opt to receive the vaccine to protect their family and to protect their community,” McGaha said.

Those between the ages of 20-30 are the age group he feels should be targeted the most about vaccines and effectiveness, as COVID cases are occurring and spreading at this time.

However, he does feel with people able to receive a Johnson & Johnson dose, there's more excitement for a vaccine in East Texas again.

"Vaccine givers across East Texas resumed utilizing that vaccine, Saturday Sunday, and a lot of people still want it," said McGaha.