Tarrant County unprepared for large delivery of vaccine doses, judge says

Tarrant County leaders this week said the county is not prepared if a large influx of vaccine doses are delivered.

County leadership had banked on a planned deal with UNT’s Health Science Center. The deal wasn't what the county judge had hoped for.

A half-million people have registered with the county. About 160,000 of them have been vaccinated.

The county needs more doses. But at this point, they do not have the staff to give them out if they get more.

Eight weeks after the first vaccines were administered, Tarrant County Public Health says 6% of county residents have received at least one dose, and 1% is fully vaccinated.

But with more than 343,000 people still waiting for a vaccine, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley is focused on opening up more vaccination sites.

"We’ve got Arlington, we’ve got Hurst, we’ve got the resource connection and we’ve got the Bolen Center," the judge said. "But we really need a location west of 35."

Three weeks ago, county leaders voted to start working with UNT Health Science Center to help out with vaccine distribution.

Whitley says he thought UNT would not only find additional sites both inside and outside the county but also get volunteers ready to give shots on short notice.

"UNT has been a great partner. They’ve helped us a lot in the contact tracing so far, they’ve got a great school of public health," Whitley said.

But this week’s agreement narrowed the Health Science Center’s scope of work to a consulting capacity, which includes spending $200,000 for UNT doctors to provide guidance to the county’s COVID response plans.

"It’ kind of puts the burden back on us to try to put together the team to identify sites and enlist the volunteers," Whitley said. "I’m not saying they’ve let us down. I’m just saying I’m beginning to get more nervous about us being prepared."

Whitley says Tarrant County Public Health is stretched too thin to tackle opening more sites on its own, so the county is considering other options like partnering with another university or a private company.

Looking north, Whitley says he’s impressed that Denton County can now vaccinate 10,000 people a day at Texas Motor Speedway.

And after talking with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, he’s hoping a place like Dickie’s Arena or Christ’s Chapel Church can follow suit.

"We’ve got to step back and we’ve got to figure out how we can get this done as quickly as possible," Whitley said.

After Denton and Collin counties got thousands of additional doses this week, Whitley says he wants to be prepared if Tarrant County gets a higher allotment on short notice.

"If the state were to give us those tomorrow, we will find a way to get them in somebody’s arms next week," he said.

In a statement from UNT Health Science Center, a spokesperson says "the conversation continues to evolve and HSC stands prepared to support the County if it is possible to do so. HSC stands ready to bolster its partnership with the county and expand its role in vaccine distribution."