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Case surge creates ‘new sense of urgency’ to get vaccinated, boosted amid the holidays

Vaccine doses have picked up in the last part of 2021 as people look to protect themselves from the recent uptick in cases — and the Walmart gift cards are helping attract crowds, too.

By Natalie Walters

People wait in line at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic
People wait in line at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Walmart on North Cockrell Hill in Dallas on Wednesday. The recent surge in cases has caused a sense of urgency in people to get their vaccines and boosters. Photo Credit: Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer

You may have heard that finding COVID-19 tests has become about as difficult as finding toilet paper was in March 2020.

The recent surge in cases is also affecting the level of interest in receiving COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

In September, the Dallas County Health and Human Services Fair Park vaccination site administered 2,188 vaccine doses. In October, that trend remained fairly steady with 2,552 doses. In November, the number soared to 8,732 and then to 11,561 for December.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in interest both in those already vaccinated and eligible for a booster as well as unvaccinated individuals wanting their first dose,” said Dr. Joseph Ventimiglia, who practices in Dallas for Village Medical, which plans to open 20 primary care practices at Walgreens stores in Dallas next year.

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Dallas County Health and Human Services partnered with Walmart to offer a pop-up vaccination clinic at the North Cockrell Hill Road Walmart on Wednesday. People were offered a $25 Walmart gift card for getting either their first or second dose or booster, and the line wrapped around outside the store.

“A family of four could walk away with a $200 Walmart gift card by the end of their second doses,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Jenkins said the county has plenty of vaccines in stock. The impetus that drives a vaccine holdout to get vaccinated can vary, he said, in the same way that sometimes it takes a relative getting lung cancer before someone decides to quit smoking.

“There is still a substantial chunk of the population not vaccinated, and they’re getting COVID over and over again, so if they’re tired of getting COVID they may want to get vaccinated,” he said.

As of the week ending on Dec. 18, 79% of Dallas County residents age 18 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 62% were fully vaccinated.

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County health director Philip Huang said the county is seeing an increase in demand for vaccines and is prepared to meet that demand. Previously, the county scaled down because demand had dropped so much, he said. For example, the Fair Park vaccination site is open just one day a week.

The county will offer two more pop-ups this weekend — also with $25 gift cards for those who get vaccinated. On Jan. 2, there will be a site at the Seagoville Flea Market along U.S. Highway 175 from 1-4 p.m. There is also one on Jan. 1 from 12-4 p.m. at a Walmart in Grand Prairie, but this one will be short-staffed and is expecting “a good number of individuals returning for their second dose,” the county said.

People who have gotten two vaccine doses but not the booster may be motivated by the recent surge in cases, Ventimiglia said. An estimated 21% of the Texas adult population has been boosted, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“There was some complacency in those with two doses because the delta variant had abated a bit, but this surge has created a new sense of urgency,” he said.

Dallas County’s current daily average reported cases has seen a 382% increase over the past two weeks. About 68% of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the most recent week in Dallas County were residents who weren’t fully vaccinated, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services data.

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booster shot increases antibody levels and can be administered six months after the second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two months after the Johnson & Johnson shot. All adults are eligible for boosters, and recent studies from The Lancet peer-reviewed medical journal found that the Moderna booster raised antibodies 32-fold. Pfizer says its booster raises antibodies by 25-fold.

“Your immune response goes up quite a bit with a booster, and with this new variant and those still to come, you want to keep your antibodies as high as possible,” Ventimiglia said. “It’s just good, common sense.”

Village Medical sees vaccinated people get the COVID-19 virus, but none have become gravely ill thanks to the protection offered by the vaccine, he said.

In Dallas County, 21,890 cases of COVID-19 breakthrough COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated individuals have been confirmed to date, of which 779 (3.6%) were hospitalized and 208 have died due to COVID-19.

There’s also been increased interest from people in their 20s and 30s who hadn’t gotten around to getting the vaccine because they knew they weren’t high risk, Ventimigilia said.

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Village Medical is still seeing patients who “unfortunately are choosing to believe some misinformation out there about vaccines and are reluctant on that basis,” he said.

While finding COVID-19 tests has become a national problem, patients haven’t had trouble finding vaccine appointments, he said.

“Thankfully we planned ahead even before the delta surge to create systems where anybody who wants a vaccine can get it,” he said.

Vaccination options in Dallas County

Vaccines.gov shows that North Texas residents can find vaccination appointments at places such as CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Kroger and Tom Thumb Pharmacy.

A Walgreens spokesperson told The News that it offers COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters in its more than 9,000 store locations and operates more than 7,200 COVID-19 testing locations in the U.S. At least 10 locations in the Dallas metro area offer vaccinations, they said.

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Demand for both services is seeing “unprecedented demand,” so patients should make vaccination appointments online or through the Walgreens app for the best experience, they said.

For Walgreens, the soonest a first dose vaccination appointment was available within 25 miles of Dallas was Tuesday, Jan. 4.

A CVS Health spokesperson said the company had administered more than 41 million COVID-19 tests and 50 million COVID-19 vaccines.

The company encourages patients to make a vaccination appointment ahead of time at CVS.com, on the CVS app or at MinuteClinic.com, to identify locations with the vaccine type they are looking for and schedule a convenient time and location up to two weeks in advance, the spokesperson said.

Same-day or walk-in vaccination appointments may be possible but are subject to local demand, the spokesperson said.

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For CVS, the nearest available date for a first vaccination dose within 25 miles of Dallas was Monday, Jan. 3.

Dallas County Health and Human Services has five immunization clinics in Dallas, Farmers Branch and Irving that are administering first, second and booster doses for adults and first and second doses for children 5 years old and older with parental consent.

The clinics are open Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. by appointment only with Pfizer, Moderna and J&J available at all locations. You can check availability at dallascounty.org/covid-19/vaccine-landing.php.

As of Dec. 30, the soonest available appointment time for a first dose of the vaccine at a Dallas County Health and Human Services clinic was Jan. 2. If you try to book an appointment before then, it says “capacity overflow” and indicates that a special code is required to sign up for an earlier date.

Dallas County Health and Human Services also offers vaccinations at two parking lot sites.

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The first is at Dallas College Eastfield Campus in parking lots 8 and 9 from Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This location is currently closed through Jan. 3 for the holidays.

The second location is at Fair Park in lot 13 and is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be open on Jan. 2.

All Dallas County Health and Human Services vaccination sites offer the $25 Walmart gift card incentive while supplies last.

Where to check for vaccine availability in North Texas

Upcoming pop-up vaccine events (no appointment required)

  • Jan. 1 at the Walmart Supercenter in Grand Prairie, 2225 W. Interstate 20, Grand Prairie, TX 75052, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (this one will be short-staffed and is already expecting a number of patients returning for their second dose, so patients are encouraged to find another site)
  • Jan. 2 at the flea market in Seagoville, 13950 U.S. Hwy 175, Seagoville, 75159, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Dallas County Health and Human Services immunization clinic locations (appointment only):

Date/time: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

DCHHS Stemmons Immunization Clinic

2377 N. Stemmons Freeway, #159 (first floor), Dallas 75207

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Oak Cliff Branch Immunization Clinic

1113 E. Jefferson Boulevard, Suite 200, Dallas 75203

John West Branch Immunization Clinic

3312 N. Buckner Boulevard, Suite 200, Dallas 75228

Carrollton Farmers Branch Immunization Clinic

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2774 Valwood Parkway, Farmers Branch 75234

Irving Branch Immunization Clinic

440 S. Nursery Road, Irving 75060

Dallas County Health and Human Services parking lot vaccination sites (appointments encouraged)

Fair Park

Location: Lot 13, enter via Gate 13 at 2000 Gaisford St.

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Date/time: Open only on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dallas College Eastfield Campus

Location: Dallas College Eastfield Campus, 3737 Motley Drive, Mesquite 75150

Date/time: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Closed from Dec. 22 to Jan. 3 for the holidays)

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