Houston’s latest COVID vaccine hotspots: restaurants and clubs

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Michael Rodgers arrived at the bustling Turkey Leg Hut on Friday in hopes of getting a decadent turkey leg stuffed with shrimp and fries.

He left with an extra side: an injection of the COVID vaccine.

“I just got to experience Turkey, but since it was right here and I was going to do it anyway, you might as well do it,” said Rodgers, a 35-year-old resident of Memphis, visiting. with family. “The queue was so long, so why not?”

In their latest attempt to vaccinate the masses, Houston Department of Health officials plan to offer COVID injections in restaurants, clubs and other high-traffic areas of the city in the coming weeks, hoping to ‘catch dead bodies at a time when time is not up. gasoline.

City officials said the visits to these locations marked a new phase in their COVID vaccine distribution strategy, as they target young adults who have been more hesitant to roll up their sleeves.

“We set up all the big locations, like NRG (Stadium) and the Bayou Center, but the people didn’t show up in numbers that we need,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We’re sort of reconfiguring things, and now the approach is to go where the people are, to go to the places that people go and frequent.

State officials estimate that about 67% of Harris County residents aged 65 and over are fully immunized, compared with about 40% of all residents aged 16 and over. The disparity is in part attributable to older adults, who are more vulnerable to serious health complications from COVID, accessing vaccines earlier.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a press conference with the Houston Department of Health on Friday, May 14, 2021, at the Turkey Leg Hut in Houston. The restaurant offered a 10% reduction to customers who received their vaccine at the mobile clinic. The Houston Department of Health has targeted more specific locations to administer the vaccines, and they will also be on site on Saturday.

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Team Photographer

City officials descended on the Museum Quarter restaurant on Friday night with an unexpected offer to customers: If you get a photo, we’ll keep your seat online and give you a 10% discount on your meal.

As the restaurant queue numbered over 100 by the early evening, a modest 20 or so customers accepted the offer during the on-site unit’s first two hours. Among the volunteer attendees was Bea Mariz, who overcame her fear of needles with the support of her restoration partner, anesthesiologist Brenda Banks, and some friendly encouragement from the second-term mayor.

“I wasn’t going to drive myself to any vaccination center,” Mariz said. “I’m still shaking. I was so scared. “

Houston Department of Health Director Stephen Williams said he wanted vaccination rates among young adults to be “much higher than they are”.

By going to high-traffic places like the Turkey Leg Hut, health officials can dispel vaccine myths in person, help reduce needle anxiety, and rely on the friends of hesitant people to gently push around. the vaccination. Williams said future stops could include different incentives, such as a tangible document.

“I think what we’re seeing now is that for each age group the strategies have to be different,” said Williams.

City officials said they plan to visit similar sites in the coming weeks, although no definitive plans have been made beyond returning to Turkey’s leg refuge on Saturday. However, the 66-year-old mayor announced a late-night stopover at one of the city’s hop clubs.

“If you can’t hang, you don’t want to be with the mayor,” Turner said with a wry smile. “We go where the people are. And then I’ll be at church Sunday morning.

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