An online portal for Angelina County residents to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine launches Monday.
It’s about time.
Angelina County’s vaccination hub was the only in the state that did not offer a website or online registration portal.
Scratch that. Neighboring Nueces and Kleberg counties in South Texas are both operating two vaccination hubs. One hub in each county offers registration online, while the second hub in each county only has a published phone number.
That means Angelina County was among the last of the 85 vaccination hubs in the state to establish an online registration.
This community prides itself on its health care services — providing Angelina and the surrounding counties with some of the most advanced health care technology available — and yet we did not bother to do the most basic of planning and preparations for worst-case scenarios.
Representatives from several different entities have met almost weekly since late January to discuss how best to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine and what the next steps are as a community.
St. Luke’s Health-Memorial CEO Monte Bostwick said the meetings have not been open to the public.
“When you come in a group like this, it’s important to have a free flow of dialogue. None of us in here are elected; I am by no means responsible,” he said. “I help to kind of pull together and facilitate. All of the parties here that are represented here bring something to the table to help us get something done.”
We beg to differ.
Every member of this private group shares in the blame for the delayed answer to the one question everyone was asking: How do I get signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s a suggestion: Maybe don’t try to exclude the public from discussions about a public health crisis.
It also begs three other questions: Why is a private group of individuals meeting behind closed doors to discuss this community’s response to a public health crisis? Why aren’t elected officials involved? Why didn’t the health district board of directors already have this figured out?
The vaccine roll-out across the state previously has been plagued with problems and delays as providers tried to navigate the state’s directives and Texans tried to find providers who had vaccine doses available. Angelina was no different than the other 253 counties in the state in this regard.
The state’s Department of State Health Services put together a page on its website with information about each of the hubs and links to sign up at each one, as well as phone numbers the public can call to make an appointment. The locations are listed alphabetically by county.
A Phase 1 clinical trial for a vaccine began in March 2020. The vaccine rollout in the United States began in mid-December 2020. Along the way, public health officials across the country have been gearing up for the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — a monumental undertaking that must distribute hundreds of millions of doses, prioritize who’s first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one.
So why did this group wait until January 2021 to begin working on a registration plan for Angelina County?
Bostwick said the goal of the portal is to make scheduling vaccinations more accessible. Up to this point, health district employees have called each patient individually to schedule appointments for the vaccination clinics.
While that’s not an effective use of time, it will remain a critical part of the push to get East Texans vaccinated. The call center will remain open for those without internet access or who are otherwise incapable of using the online platform. That phone number is 630-8500.
The primary focus of the group has been on the clinics facilitated by the health district that have put around 10,000 shots in arms, according to Bostwick. This number does not include the vaccines administered by the hospitals or other health care facilities, he said.
The district says 8,808 doses have been distributed in East Texas. That means roughly 10% of Angelina County residents has been vaccinated. There are thousands more people in Angelina, Polk and San Augustine counties, for whom the health district is responsible, still waiting on shots.
And that makes the lack of transparency by this private group managing East Texas’ crisis response all the more disturbing.