FORT WORTH, Texas - Tarrant County is making moves to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine distribution once more doses start to become available.
It announced a multi-million dollar deal on Tuesday with UNT's Health Science Center to take over and overhaul the county’s vaccination plan.
The partnership with UNTHSC has been evolving for weeks. As recently as last week, Judge Glen Whitley was concerned the county wouldn't be prepared for an influx of vaccine doses and said extra help was needed.
This is week nine of the vaccination effort in Tarrant County and more than 212,000 doses have been administered.
Public Health Director Vinny Taneja says eight percent of the county’s population has received at least one dose and nearly two percent of the county is fully vaccinated.
"That’s not a bad number to start off with, with a limited supply. Once the vaccine becomes more abundant, I think these numbers are going to accelerate quite a bit," he said.
But the county’s public health department has been stretched thin running its three vaccination centers -- even with the limited vaccines.
So county commissioners were relieved that it could reach a deal to get a huge boost from UNTHSC.
The agreement, worth $25 million, will see UNTHSC taking the lead with locating and operating new vaccination sites, establishing mobile clinics and providing home access.
"They’ll be responsible for staffing, training and doing all of that for those particular locations," Whitley said. "I mean they’ve got a public health department school over there. They’re perfect for that."
UNTHSC will work to become a Designated Vaccine Provider so it can start receiving its own doses from the state.
"We’ll be ready," Whitley said. "We will be ready when those vaccines increase."
Officials say UNTHSC will also take over outreach and marketing programs to find and register those in underserved and hard-to-reach communities.
"Especially in the African American communities, there is a skepticism about taking the vaccines and we’re going to have to do a better job of communicating to the folks in those neighborhoods," Whitley said.
It’s an extensive and expensive deal, which sees Tarrant County immediately spending $2.5 million to get things started.
"Now we’re hopeful that somewhere down the line, FEMA is going to come in and reimburse and they would be able to get reimbursed too," Whitley said.
In a statement, a university spokesperson says the university is "…eager to assist in vaccinating the community and will provide updates as progress is made."