More than 77% of Fort Bend County residents aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of October 28, making Fort Bend County one of the most vaccinated counties in the state, data shows of Texas Department of State Health Services.
In addition, 99.99% of residents 65 and older, the most-at-risk age group, have received a dose of the vaccine and 93.24% are fully immunized. Fort Bend County Judge KP George attributed the county’s high vaccination rate to a number of factors, including its residents, who he said have responded to the efforts and outreach initiatives.
As of October 28, Harris County was lagging behind, having vaccinated 67.44% of its population aged 12 and over, while Montgomery County’s eligible population was 59.46% vaccinated.
“It’s really a combined effort and a team effort where we were able to do a lot of things and guide people through the right channels,” said George. “The end results seem to indicate that we are doing exceptionally well compared to many countries. “
Still, Fort Bend County is emerging from a so-called “third wave” of new cases, mainly due to transmission of the delta variant among mostly unvaccinated individuals, local health care officials have said.
Fort Bend County Health & Human Services recorded the highest number of single-day cases since the pandemic began at 1,499 on September 8.
“It’s extremely sad to have such a wonderful tool at our disposal [in the vaccine] and for some reason people are not taking advantage of it, ”said Kathryn Tart, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Houston.
Fight the coronavirus
Since Texas expanded vaccine eligibility in mid-May to anyone aged 12 and over, the FBCHHS has worked to make the vaccine as available as possible, officials said.
“Across the country and here locally, immunization has declined,” FBCHHS director Dr Jacquelyn Minter said in an email. “Although vaccines are now more readily available, there are still some that do not have easy access to commercial locations due to transportation, technology or working hours. Others are hesitant due to an unclear understanding of vaccine safety, and others have heard incorrect or confusing information. “
From July until September, the FBCHHS reported an increase in positive cases and hospitalizations as the delta variant spread in the community.
The seven-day average of newly reported cases rose from 20 cases in July to more than 350 in September. Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized in Fort Bend County with COVID-19 has increased from around 30 to more than 200 during the same period. As of October 28, there were 2,488 active cases in the county.
Minter said that of the cases reported to his department, 1.3% were confirmed to have occurred in people who were fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people are also less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus, Minter said.
Across the Houston Methodist hospital system, 80% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, said Dr Nicholas Desai, director of medical information at Sugar Land Methodist Hospital in Houston.
Desai said this most recent influx of COVID-19 patients has taken its toll on the physical, emotional and mental health of healthcare workers, and many believe the recent wave was preventable.
“It really hurts when you see people who aren’t vaccinated but also have the ability to access those vaccines at such an easily accessible rate that it’s just emotionally draining,” Desai said.
Despite the county’s relatively high vaccination rate, officials said vaccination remains a top priority. Throughout the spring and summer, the Fort Bend County Commissioners’ Court approved federal aid spending to promote immunization, which allowed more people to get vaccinated, officials said. .
In April, the county unveiled its mHealth unit, which was funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to underserved areas of the county. As of October 20, the unit had provided approximately 9,000 doses of vaccine to residents.
Although the county was unable to provide a breakdown of funds spent on immunization campaigns, George’s office said most of the efforts were funded using dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as over $ 8 million in funding from the CARES Act and over $ 8 million from the American Rescue Act.
The county has also used federal relief funds to provide assistance to those affected by the pandemic, including through a child care voucher program, rent and mortgage assistance, d ’employment incentives and a small business support program.
“[FBCHHS] has gone from an emergency pandemic response on the bridge to an endemic response mode, ”Minter said in an email.
Fulshear Mayor Aaron Groff said he applauded the county’s efforts to prioritize the distribution of vaccines and make them readily available, but said there may not be a need to further fund the vaccines. awareness efforts.
“If people aren’t vaccinated today, it’s not because they don’t have access to it,” Groff said. “It’s because they’re making this choice not to, so we don’t need to keep spending money on initiatives to force something on people who actively choose not to participate. “
While the county uses funds for immunization awareness and accessibility, it has not put in place incentives for people who get immunized, which Harris County has invested money for. .
Harris County’s first incentive program awarded a scholarship of $ 5,000 each week for 10 weeks to a student who received the vaccine at a county-run site starting in June; her second program targeted the wider community by offering $ 100 to get the vaccine. Both programs have since ended.
George said commissioners had considered incentives, but the high vaccination rate for county residents did not justify the need for them. Plus, he said he wanted to be fair to people who already got the hang of it.
However, some local businesses and community organizations have offered incentives.
In May, HEB held vaccination clinics at Constellation Field where those vaccinated received a free Skeeters ticket. Meanwhile, the University of Houston, which has a campus in Sugar Land, offered students and staff $ 50 on their Cougar card to get the shot.
To reach unvaccinated groups, the county is bringing the mHealth unit to schools, homeowners associations, businesses, places of worship and community organizations to make vaccines more accessible, Minter said.
“[These partnerships help] us to vaccinate even a small number of people who might not otherwise be vaccinated, ”Minter said.
Next steps for vaccination
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning all COVID-19 vaccine warrants on October 11.
Under the ordinance, no entity can make the vaccine mandatory, including for customers or employees, punishable by a fine of up to $ 1,000. Abbott cited the Biden administration’s COVID-19 warrants of September 9 for employers with more than 100 employees, calling the plans “federal overbreadth.”
Hospitals in the Houston area were among the first private employers to mandate vaccines.
Desai said that as healthcare workers it is their responsibility to keep themselves, their families and patients safe.
“We believe it is part of our Hippocratic Oath to ensure that we do no harm and to ensure that when patients put their lives in our hands, we follow the science and give them the maximum protection against us,” Desai said.
However, others, like Groff, said the decision to get the vaccine should be an individual’s choice.
“As a county, we have a high vaccination rate, both among children, adults and especially our seniors,” said Groff. “And everyone has access to it.”