Travis County closes county-run COVID-19 vaccine clinics, new subvariant detected

Kylee Howard, Senior News Reporter

Travis County closed its drive-thru and mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics on Dec. 31, an effort originally designed to bring vaccines to the most affected areas of Austin according to a press release from the county.

The mobile clinics were a collaboration between the county and local health organizations, delivering 137,304 doses to residents over nearly two years. Hector Nieto, director of the Travis County Public Information Office, said demand for the vaccine has gone down as supply has gone up.  

“When Travis County first began its operations, vaccine supply was limited,” Nieto said. “We wanted to address the need in several underserved communities.”

Nieto said the effort targeted areas severely affected by COVID-19 that did not have access to the necessary healthcare. The first vaccination event took place in February 2021 at the Circuit of the Americas racing track, Nieto said.

“The clinics gradually transformed based on need, and supply started becoming more prevalent,” Nieto said. “We started inserting ourselves in community locations, whether that be grocery stores, churches, community centers, things like that.”

Austin Public Health, an entity that helped coordinate the collaboration, informed Travis County it would be able to scale back vaccine operations following the decreasing demand from the county mobile clinics, Nieto said. 

Following a steady increase of COVID-19 cases in Austin, Travis County increased its community risk level to medium and a new subvariant of omicron, XBB.1, was detected in the county, according to a Jan. 6 press release

“We need to avoid another surge,” APH director Adrienne Sturrup said in the release. “Our hospitals are treating patients with COVID-19, flu and various upper respiratory illnesses right now. If you have already resolved to prioritize your health with a healthier diet, or more physical activity in this new year, add getting vaccinated to your list.”

According to the press release, the symptoms of the subvariant are similar to other variants, including ”cough, congestion, exhaustion, fever, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea and headaches.” The press release also stated the new variant is “rapidly replacing” other known subvariants in the U.S.

Austin Public Health recommends residents mask up when unable to social distance while community risk remains medium. The University’s COVID-19 policies have not changed going into the new semester.

“UT officials are constantly monitoring the health environment,” said Brian Davis, senior manager of issues and crisis communications. “And if the situation changes, we will reflect that in our policies and procedures.”