Health & Science

Harris County To Take Over NRG Park Vaccination Site, As FEMA Plans Departure

Vaccine providers are slowly moving away from large scale sites and focusing on smaller community sites.

Car line up at the mass vaccination site at NRG Park on April 12, 2021.

Harris County officials say FEMA will cease operation of the NRG Park mega vaccination site in July, leaving the county to fully operate the site going forward.

The FEMA-run vaccine site at NRG Park is among the largest in the state, and joined two other federal vaccination sites located at Fair Park in Dallas and AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The NRG site aimed to vaccinate 6,000-7,000 people per day after it opened in late February, but that number has dropped significantly over the past few months.

The site is now averaging 500-700 vaccinations per day, according to Mac McClendon, director of Harris County Public Health’s Office of Public Health Preparedness & Response.

He said the site would continue to operate for the time being — despite a message on NRG’s website stating that the site would discontinue operation on Thursday. According to McClendon, that end date was a miscommunication on NRG’s end.

He explained that FEMA will leave the site on July 19, but local officials will continue distributing vaccines at NRG.

"We’re planning on staying open until the decision is made to stop,” he said. “We will be extending with either our own employees shifting over and manning that site or with contractors."

McClendon said the county is still evaluating whether hours of operation might shift after FEMA leaves.

The AT&T Stadium vaccination site closed in April due to low turnout, and the Fair Park site is set to close in August.

FEMA's departure in Houston is just the latest result of a drop in vaccine demand. Other Houston-area health care providers have also begun to shift their focus to community vaccination efforts.

The Houston Health Department opened two large vaccination sites earlier this year, located at Delmar Stadium and Rodeo Reed Parking Lot. As of now, the amount of smaller scale vaccination sites across the city has increased, while the reliance on the city’s mega sites has since waned months ago, according to a spokesperson for the city’s health department.

Additionally, Memorial Hermann opened the Smart Financial Centre mass vaccination site earlier this year in Sugarland, and held several events to vaccinate thousands of Houston-area residents. A spokesperson confirmed in a statement to Houston Public Media that the hospital has since begun to target smaller communities.

“We have shifted our focus away from the large vaccination clinics to more grassroots efforts, setting up smaller vaccine clinics across Greater Houston,” the statement read.

In Galveston, UTMB closed its mass vaccination site earlier this month.

“As vaccination rates have increased, and demand and infection rates have leveled off in our area, the UTMB is adapting to better serve patients,” read a statement on the hospital’s website.

UTMB pointed to its primary care clinics as the hospital’s main source for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Local health departments have also taken to providing vaccination incentives to help combat the decrease in demand. The county previously gave away tickets to the 2022 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in May, and began giving out weekly $5,000 scholarships to vaccine recipients under the age of 18 earlier this month.

Nearly half of all eligible Harris County residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Additional reporting from Sara Willa Ernst.

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