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Historic winter storm throws a wrench into COVID vaccine rollout in Texas

February 18, 2021, 9:13 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

Texas is reeling from the historic winter storm Uri, which has overwhelmed the state’s power grid and left millions without power or even access to safe drinking water.

The loss of those fundamental utilities would be a crisis unto itself. But one storm is brushing up against another: A pandemic necessitating a mass vaccine rollout. That rollout will get a lot messier in states that have been hardest-hit by the onslaught of snow, such as Texas.

The Lone Star State, as of February 16, wasn’t doing a horrible job vaccinating its residents relative to other states. It has administered at least one dose of the two currently authorized vaccines to 10.6% of the population. That’s just slightly lower than the rates in California, Florida, and New York.

But things are about to get (and have already begun getting) messy. Dr. Anthony Fauci described the problem as “significant” in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday.

“It’s been slowed down in some places going to a grinding halt,” he said. “We’re just going to have to make up for it as soon as the weather lifts a bit, the ice melts, and we can get the trucks out and the people out.”

The trucks aren’t the only problem. Hospitals and care centers in certain areas such as Austin, Texas have had to evacuate patients as Uri has left medical centers without power or access to water. Not only can these facilities not serve as COVID-19 vaccination hubs for whatever vaccine supply is still available in the state—they don’t even have the capacity to care for current patients.

Non-hospital vaccination sites are also being forced to temporarily shutter. “We’ve delayed the vaccinations because we can’t open up the vaccination facilities,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in an interview with CBS News. “It’s just not safe for people to be out. So, we need this to thaw. And my understanding is we might be a day or two away from that. And then we are going to just have to re-double our efforts to make sure the vaccine that we have gets in the peoples’ arms. But for right now, we’re on pause.”

In one show of the extraordinary efforts being taken to grapple with the problem, active-duty troops are standing by to be deployed to Houston next week to assist in the vaccine drive.

And speaking of getting shots into arms: Fortune is hosting a discussion next week on these very topics. On Tuesday, February 23, at 11 a.m. ET, you can join a discussion with leaders including:

  • Dr. William J. Kassler, chief medical officer, government health and human services and deputy chief health officer for IBM Watson Health
  • Dr. Marc Watkins, chief medical officer, Kroger Health

You can register right here for the event.

In the meantime, read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee


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