While the county is primarily focused on administering first doses, it is waiting for federal guidance to begin planning for the next stage of the rollout.
UPDATED at 3:43 p.m. Friday:
An influential federal advisory panel has overwhelmingly rejected a plan on Friday to give Pfizer booster shots against COVID-19 to most Americans, but it endorsed the extra doses for those who are 65 or older, or run a high risk of severe disease. Read more here.
Dallas County officials are planning to give out booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are approved for general use.
But don’t expect the same long lines and cumbersome registration procedures from mass vaccination efforts earlier this year when a limited supply of shots first rolled out.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, the county’s health director, Dr. Philip Huang, said he expects the vaccine’s wide availability to help meet demand when the booster shot is approved for general use.
Currently, it is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people who are immunocompromised, and doses are available at county clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and more. The FDA meets Friday to review the efficacy of another dose but it’s unknown when boosters will become widely available.
“We are certainly waiting to see exactly how it is approved,” Huang said. “We are expanding our capacity to offer some additional vaccination sites. It’s a different situation right now from when we started.”
But the county’s primary focus is still getting first doses in the arms of those who are unvaccinated. Only 57% of the population has gotten at least one dose, according to county data, and Huang said rates have plateaued.
“We still have a whole lot of people who haven’t gotten their first doses,” Huang said. “Every shot in an arm is a good thing.”
Here’s a look at how Dallas County and others are preparing for the next phase of vaccines.
Can I still get a shot at Fair Park?
The Fair Park mega-site, which experienced some issues during the early vaccine distribution, closed this summer. The South Dallas site, which had reopened as a pop-up clinic on Saturdays, ends this weekend.
During the State Fair of Texas, the county’s health department will set up a booth near Big Tex to administer doses every day of the event. Dallas County residents can get $20 worth of fair coupons for getting their shot there. The State Fair of Texas begins Sept. 24.
Will the Fair Park vaccination hub reopen for boosters?
While the county is looking at options for booster distribution — including another drive-through site — no decisions have been finalized. Huang said the county is waiting for federal approval before making decisions.
“It depends on the demand,” Huang said. “We are setting up some additional drive-throughs and if we need more, we’ll be able to expand that if needed.”
Besides, Huang said, the vaccine is much more readily available today than it was when the shots were first approved. Now, people can get a vaccine at their local pharmacy or grocery store as well as county sites, so the need for massive vaccination hubs is less critical.
How are other areas in North Texas handling booster shots?
Collin and Tarrant counties are giving third doses to immunocompromised people at their vaccine clinics but will wait for the go-ahead from the federal government to make the booster shots widely available.
Denton County Public Health sent a text message Thursday to those who were vaccinated at the Texas Motor Speedway drive-through clinic, saying they were monitoring the booster review and that they’d send a link for individuals to self-schedule one when eligible.
Rockwall County said it also plans to lean on retail locations such as CVS and Walgreens pharmacies for the booster shot rollout.
Both pharmacy chains said they’ve been giving third doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to immunocompromised people since mid-August, following an earlier Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that people with pre-existing conditions get an extra dose to enhance vaccine immunity.
Who will get a booster dose first?
Depending on the FDA approval, the booster shot could be recommended for people several months after their second doses. Therefore, the first group eligible for the booster would include people who received the doses before they were widely available — health care workers, older people and those with underlying health conditions.
That should allow the region to maintain vaccine supply, Huang said.
Is there a wait list for the booster shots?
Currently, there is no wait list for the booster shot, Huang said. That is a possibility if demand is too high once they are approved. Still, he said, he expects a network of providers to help limit the need for a wait list.
If the vaccine is approved for children, how will the county distribute doses?
Pfizer announced this week it plans to seek approval for children ages 5 to 11 for their vaccine by the end of the month.
If it is approved for other age groups, Huang said, Dallas County would follow past practices to roll out the vaccines, making them available to children wherever they’re being administered.
“We’ll just make it available,” Huang said.
What is the county doing to reach those who are still unvaccinated?
Since the COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020, the county has continued prioritizing getting the shot to those who are unvaccinated, Huang said.
The health department goes door-to-door in census tracts where county data shows low vaccination rates. Teams from the county and Parkland Health & Hospital System set up pop-up clinics at community events and fairs. The county’s commissioners court has approved money for a new marketing plan to help promote vaccination.
“It’s a multi-pronged strategy with many partners,” Huang said.
Still, Huang said, it may take government mandates like the ones President Joe Biden announced earlier this month to achieve widespread vaccination.
Similar to smoking regulations, when people were aware that smoking caused cancer long before it was banned from most places, Huang said it took government-driven health action to drastically curtail the habit.
Staff writer Maggie Prosser contributed to this report.
Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine
Along with pop-up clinics throughout the county and availability at most drug stores and pharmacies, vaccines will be distributed at Fair Park’s Lot 13 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18. Registration is recommended at dallascounty.org/covid-19.
During the State Fair, 500 vaccinations will be available at the county health department’s booth near Big Tex from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. any day of the event. Dallas County residents will receive $20 in State Fair coupons, while supplies last, for getting the vaccine.
For more information on where to get a vaccine, click here.