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What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in El Paso

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Updated 6:25 p.m. March 5.: Revised with additional information.

Texas became the first state Jan. 14 to administer more than 1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, one month after it received its first vaccine shipment. Despite the milestone, it will be months before the majority of the state’s 29 million people receive their first shot.

About 14% of the state’s population had received the first of two doses of the vaccine as of March 4, according to the state’s dashboard. In El Paso County, nearly 143,000 people had received an initial dose, or about 22% of the population age 16 and older.

In El Paso, like other parts of the state, the vaccine rollout has caused confusion and frustration over where to find a shot and who can get one. Here’s what we know about the process:

Who is giving out COVID-19 vaccines?

The state sends the majority of its COVID-19 vaccines to vaccination hubs. In El Paso, these are the University Medical Center of El Paso (the county hospital) and the city of El Paso Fire Department. For the week of March 8, UMC will receive 7,020 first doses and the city will get 6,000.

UMC’s vaccination site is at the El Paso County Coliseum. The city is scheduling appointments at both 301 George Perry Boulevard and the Judson F. Williams Convention Center. It is vaccinating residents age 75 and older at the Don Haskins Recreation Center at 7400 High Ridge Dr.

The University of Texas at El Paso is also a vaccine provider, but is limiting the doses it receives for students, faculty and staff.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, DSHS, is sending smaller amounts of vaccines to doctor’s offices, community health clinics and pharmacies. You can find these sites here.

The federal government sends doses directly to select CVS, Walgreens and Sam’s Clubs stores, as well as to the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

All providers, including the hubs, are vaccinating by appointment only.

How do I get on a vaccine waitlist?

The city and county are in the process of creating a centralized appointment waiting list. To sign up on that waitlist, go here. People can also be added to the list by calling 915-212-6843, or signing up in person at the city’s 220 S. Stanton St. clinic from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Until the city and county merge their appointment systems, UMC will continue to open its online appointment registration when it receives doses. People should monitor UMC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for updates on when this happens.

UTEP students, faculty and staff can get on its online waitlist here.

CVS appointments can be made online or by calling 800-746-7287. Walgreens and Sam’s Club appointments are made online.

TRICARE beneficiaries can schedule an appointment at William Beaumont Army Medical Center here, or call 915-742-2273.

Should I pre-register for an appointment with a vaccine hub or find another provider?

People should pre-register “with the type or types of providers that work best for their situation,” DSHS spokesperson Lara Anton said in an email.

If someone has signed up on the city-county waitlist and gets vaccinated elsewhere, they should email removevaccinelist@elpasotexas.gov to be taken off.

Who are providers vaccinating?

Currently, Texas is vaccinating people in the Phase 1A and Phase 1B priority groups. These cover front-line health care workers and first responders, people age 65 and older and those age 16 and older with underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk of being hospitalized from the virus.

On March 3, DSHS announced that teachers, school employees and child care workers are now eligible to get the vaccine. These include “those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers,” according to a new federal directive.

State health officials will announce when the next priority groups will be eligible to get vaccinated.

How long is the wait for a vaccine in El Paso?

More than 220,000 people have pre-registered for an appointment on the city-county waitlist. The city and county-run hubs each vaccinate about 1,000 people a day.

The city reserves 20% of its weekly vaccine doses for people age 75 and older. The oldest people on the waiting list will be prioritized for appointments.

The city schedules appointments for the remaining 80% of its doses with people who meet the Phase 1A or 1B criteria in the order they signed up on the waitlist. Details on the appointment process can be found here.

How long will it take until most El Pasoans are vaccinated?

Eighty-five percent of the population will need to be vaccinated for the region to acquire herd immunity to stop the spread of the virus, the health department said. That means El Paso County needs about 1.4 million doses of a vaccine that requires two shots.

Is the vaccine free?

The vaccine is free, although providers can charge a fee for administering the shot. Insurance covers this fee. Uninsured people cannot be charged this fee and providers instead will be reimbursed by the federal government.

Where can I find more information about the vaccine?

The city’s COVID-19 vaccine website includes answers to frequently asked questions. People can also call the city COVID-19 hotline at 915-212-6843.

El Pasoans, what are your COVID-19 vaccine questions? Click here to ask.

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at mksmith@elpasomatters.org or 915-247-8857.

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