The Montebello condominium complex in uptown Houston bills itself as one of the city’s “premier luxury highrises” with amenities like valet parking, concierge service, and a pool. Recently it added a new perk: COVID-19 vaccines for its elderly residents.
While health-care workers and senior citizens nationwide struggle to get their hands on a COVID-19 vaccine in the first wave of inoculations, the Montebello seems to have figured it out.
About 60 residents of the upscale condo complex have been vaccinated, the building’s general manager told The Daily Beast on Thursday—despite not being on Texas’ public vaccine distribution list.
“The state of Texas authorized it,” Montebello general manager Daniel Hancock said. “We’re working with a distributor... it’s a blessing we were able to get it.”
Hancock declined to tell The Daily Beast the name of the distributor, but said the building was eligible to receive the shots because of its high elderly population.
The Texas Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment on the arrangement.
When asked about reports of the Montebello vaccinating their residents for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the city of Houston’s health department said he wasn’t aware of it.
“All the distributors have to register through the state health department,” the spokesperson, Porfirio Villareal, said. “The apartment complex is not an approved provider. If a site is not approved, not on the list, and receiving shipments of the vaccine, then our recommendation is not to go to that site.”
The Montebello isn’t on the state’s list of vaccine recipients—which lists hospitals, pharmacies, local health departments, and health-care clinics only—or shown on the state’s map of vaccine provider locations.
David Fink, 68, was one of the Montebello residents to get vaccinated. He’d been receiving his flu shots through the building, and was happy to hear he was eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine, given his age.
“It was all above board,” he told The Daily Beast.
Both Fink and Hancock said they’d heard of other apartment buildings in the Houston area receiving the vaccine.
“We weren’t the first ones,” Hancock said. “It’s not only the high rises.”
Statewide, the rollout of the two FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines—produced by Pfizer and Moderna—has not gone as smoothly as it has for the Montebello.
Texas was allocated 1.2 million doses for the first three weeks but, on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that a “significant portion of vaccines distributed across Texas might be sitting on hospital shelves as opposed to being given to vulnerable Texans.”
“The state urges vaccine providers to quickly provide all shots. We get plenty more each week,” he wrote on Twitter.
Later on Tuesday, the state announced that vaccinations could begin immediately among people over 65. The move goes against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccines only be allotted to health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
However, the ultimate decision on who gets vaccinated—and when—lies in the hands of individual states. And, as the Houston Chronicle reported on Thursday, many distributors have already reached their allotment, leaving most elderly Texans struggling to find a place to give them their shot.
“Unfortunately, the truth is that the vaccine is NOT currently available to the vast majority of Texans who are 65 and older,” Gina Hinojosa, a Democratic state representative from Austin, wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
A former state representative, Jason Villalba, found that out first-hand. “I have parents over 65, one with co-morbidity conditions & lost my grandfather to COVID,” he tweeted. "We have called all of the locations near us on the [state health department] chart and all have said they don’t have vaccines.”
Tony Dasher, a professor at the Feik School of Pharmacology at San Antonio's University of the Incarnate Word, said he “wouldn’t have a problem” with the vaccine being distributed to areas with higher concentrations of older residents, like the Montebello, even if they aren’t traditional nursing home facilities.
“There are several communities that are targeted to retirees, and you can have a big cluster of people over 65,” Dasher told The Daily Beast. “It makes much more sense if you have the vaccine, and can get it to them, rather than have them all in a grocery store or a pharmacy and wait for people to get them there.”
Nationwide, the rollout of the vaccine has been slow and confusing.
In El Paso, city officials were forced this week to explain how some people who didn’t meet qualifying criteria were able to be vaccinated at a zoo, while in New York, a health-care provider was caught out allegedly administering “fraudulently” obtained vaccines to non-essential patients.
Even hospitals have bungled the triaging: Over 100 nurses and doctors protested at Stanford University’s medical center protested after an algorithm determined that hospital execs would get vaccinated first.
According to Bloomberg News’ vaccination tracker, just over 3 million doses of the vaccine had been administered by the end of 2020, dramatically undershooting expectations, as a lack of federal guidelines and distribution capabilities have led to fears of vaccines expiring.
“I think that people are gonna have high expectations about the vaccine being available, like ‘It’s been delivered, why can’t I get it yet?’” Dasher said. “But that’s not gonna be the case for a while.”