Calling the Shots

H-E-B to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Houston stores

H-E-B plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines once they're available. Photo courtesy of BCM

As a pair of COVID-19 vaccines await emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Texas' largest grocer is prepping for the vaccines' unprecedented rollout.

San Antonio-based H-E-B announced its pharmacies will administer the COVID-19 vaccine to Texans once it's available to the general public.

"At H-E-B, the health and safety of Texans is our top priority," the company noted in a release posted December 3. "As a trusted source for all routine childhood and adult immunizations, H-E-B pharmacies will partner with the federal and state government to administer the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the general public, following the CDC distribution schedule."

Though it's unclear when H-E-B will receive the vaccine doses and which company's vaccine —Moderna, the Pfizer/BioNTech, or otherwise — will be available through the grocer, health-focused organizations and businesses like H-E-B are preparing for the massive distribution, which could begin as soon as 24 hours after the FDA gives its approval.

The goal of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's plan to help develop, make, and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Americans, is "to deliver safe vaccines that work, with the first supply becoming available before the end of 2020," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also notes once a vaccine is approved and released, there may not be enough doses available for all U.S. adults, though supplies will increase over time and "all adults should be able to get vaccinated later in 2021."

The CDC further states that vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer money will be distributed to Americans for free. However, vaccine providers can charge an administration fee for providing the shot.

It's unclear how many doses each store will receive and whether the company plans to distribute the vaccine through its pharmacy drive-thrus, at onsite pop-up medical tents, or solely from its in-store pharmacies.

"We do have all H-E-B pharmacies registered and ready to administer the vaccine," says Leslie Sweet, H-E-B's director of public affairs in the Central Texas region. "We will follow the prescribed allocation schedule as prescribed by [the Department of State Health Services]. We do not yet have a specific date or allocation number to share."

H-E-B pharmacies throughout the state already have some safety measures in place because of COVID-19 concerns, including allowing customers to prepay for prescriptions on the phone prior to picking them up or have their prescriptions delivered for free, and offering no-contact pickup and delivery of prescriptions through its pharmacy drive-thrus.

Additionally, H-E-B says it is continuing to take steps to protect its customers and employees during the pandemic.

"We're going above and beyond our already stringent sanitation standards, cleaning and disinfecting pharmacy counters, waiting areas, and drive-thru surfaces at a higher frequency," the grocer notes in its recent release. "Our pharmacy partners are practicing proper hand-washing throughout the day, and disinfecting and wiping down commonly used surfaces. We've also installed acrylic barriers and provided masks and gloves for all pharmacy partners. … As always, your health and safety is of the utmost importance to us. Together, we can slow the spread."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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