Austin, Texas’ Covid-19 vaccination rate is relatively high, but it still struggles to get shot amid rising cases

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“I want to take our life back in hand,” Camila, who will soon be entering eighth grade, told CNN. She wants to go out in public without a mask, she said. She wants to go on a family vacation and wants to go to school safely in person, saying she has struggled with distance learning. “And I also want to be safe.”

Camila was vaccinated at a site set up by Austin Public Health in Del Valle, Texas, on the outskirts of the capital, in partnership with the nonprofit Emanicpet, which provides routine health care for dogs. . The officials were there looking for people like Camila who are not vaccinated but are ready to change that.

With the rate of inoculations slowing, Austin is scrambling to get more shots, dedicating staff to sites across town – veterinary clinics, churches, recreation centers, construction sites, homeless shelters – just to vaccinate 10, 15 or 20 people at a time.

Overall, Travis County, which includes Austin, is doing relatively well in terms of vaccinations. About 63.4% of the county population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated, according to data Monday from the Texas Department of State Health Services, compared to about 52.9% of the state’s population over the age of 12.

But that’s not enough to stem the rising tide of infections and hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant, officials say.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CNN the county and city have performed well, and he touted the high vaccination rate. “Which goes to show that this variant of Covid, Delta, is just a lot more contagious and has a much bigger impact,” he said.

At first, thousands of people a day were getting vaccinated in Austin, Dr Desmar Walkes of the Austin-Travis County Health Authority told CNN. Vaccines were in such demand that some people had to be turned away first.

Nowadays? “We’re looking at maybe 50 to 100 people depending on how many strike teams we have on a given day,” Walkes said.

“Our critical care capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk for the entire community has increased dramatically, and not just for those in need of treatment for COVID,” Walkes said in a statement Friday. . “If we fail to come together as a community now, we are endangering the lives of our loved ones who may need intensive care. “

Adler added: “It’s more than frustrating that it’s so hard to get vaccines into people’s arms today when we were handing out thousands of them just a few months ago. And we’re doing everything we can. we can.”

Now, “the labor-intensive effort” involves “practically going door-to-door,” he said.

“We’re trying to find people where they are,” Adler said. “We work through trusted voices and communities, working with churches and religious institutions, religious leaders.”

Camila admits that she was nervous about getting the vaccine. She says initially she didn’t want to be vaccinated. But she was the last member of her family to need it – everyone had been vaccinated.

So, she decided to listen to someone she trusts – her mother, who told her that the vaccine was the best way to get back to normalcy.

“My mom was talking to me in the car and she said, ‘You know, if you want the world to get better, we have to help,” Camila said. “Everyone needs to be vaccinated.

“An epidemic among the unvaccinated”

After weeks of progress, Covid-19 cases are increasing rapidly in states across the country. In Texas, the seven-day moving average was 9,789 new daily cases as of Monday, according to CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s much higher than July 1, when the seven-day moving average of daily new cases was around 1,500.

Why the Delta variant spreads so much faster than other strains of coronavirus
Austin is also feeling the push. The city’s Covid-19 dashboard showed a seven-day moving average of about 365 new daily cases on Monday, up from about 34 on July 1. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with a seven-day average of 346 patients reported in the week prior to Monday, up from 57 patients in early July.

“This Delta variant has really caused an alarming increase in the number of cases,” Walkes told CNN. “We went from 30 cases a day to almost 400 cases a day in almost two and a half, three weeks.”

“It’s because we still have a lot of people who are not vaccinated,” she said.

Almost everyone in the city’s hospitals is unvaccinated, Adler told CNN.

“Almost everyone in our intensive care units is made up of people who are not vaccinated. We don’t have anyone in our town on a ventilator who is vaccinated,” he said. “It’s an epidemic among the unvaccinated.”

People walk past a mural inviting everyone to wear masks.  The mural, seen on Tuesday July 20 on the Marcelino restaurant in East Austin, translates to
Last week the the city has taken step 4 of 5 of its risk-based guidelines, advising partially or unvaccinated people to avoid private gatherings, meals, travel and shopping, unless absolutely essential. And everyone – vaccinated or not – is encouraged to wear a mask.
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will not impose a statewide mask mandate and previously banned local government entities from requiring vaccines.
Texans know “what the standards are, what practices they want to adopt to protect themselves,” he said. KPRC, subsidiary of CNN Last week. “It’s time for individual responsibility.”

But on the front line, Adler said, this type of message “makes it harder for us to get the behaviors we want, when our governor is not ready to join in in a way that sends an unambiguous message to the community on the need to be vaccinated and on the ability and importance for people to wear masks when infection levels are very high. ”

Target the “mobile environment”

Yet officials from Austin and the governor agrees that vaccines are effective against the virus.
Why we have to hide again

Health officials are now focusing on what Walkes describes as the “mobile environment” – people who are looking for more information or need their concerns addressed individually.

So-called strike teams are mobilizing in communities to find these people where they live, work and play, says Walkes.

But that does mean there is more labor spent to vaccinate fewer people. And officials must also tackle misinformation, convincing people that vaccines are safe and effective, she says.

“Each person we can immunize is another person who will not be sick,” she said. “Vaccines work to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and death. ”

A masked man walks July 20 in East Austin next to a bus with a message urging people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Austin’s efforts to increase immunizations are a model happening across the state.

The Texas Department of State Health Services will allocate $ 10 million to local organizations promoting vaccines, such as educational agencies, faith-based organizations, community coalitions and nonprofits, he said.

There has been some success in Austin, says Walkes, describing a “slight increase” in the number of people coming in for the shot, especially when it comes to children like Camila.

“In particular, we are seeing parents bringing their children to be immunized,” Walkes said, “because we are weeks away from the school reopening, and we want to do what we can to keep the school safe. our children “.


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