As each of us lives through the horrible history that is the pandemic, we are all anxious for the cure. While we are thrilled to have a vaccine so soon, we are seeing delays in getting massive doses. The state office responsible for distribution of these vaccines is the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM). I have met with the staff responsible, Travis County, as well as the city of Austin staff to relay and share best thoughts on coordination and distribution.
We are encouraged that TDEM has heard our local health officials say they want massive doses, and they want to be informed as soon as possible so they can make plans for large mass vaccination programs like those held at school auditoriums or other public venues.
I encourage anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated in the coming months as availability increases. Public health experts and clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be safe and highly effective, and community-wide vaccination will provide herd immunity, reduce the spread and protect our fellow Texans.
It was only Dec.14th that the first COVID-19 vaccine became available for public use in the United States. Through months of tireless research, and clinical trials, experts have developed multiple vaccines – with as much as a 95% efficacy rate — to combat COVID-19. This major step forward for us all is something to be celebrated as we now face a critical road ahead in successfully distributing the vaccine.
Depending on provider location, Texans in categories 1A and 1B are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Those in 1A include frontline health care workers and those in long-term care facilities. Sites that have opened availability to 1B are serving individuals over 65 years of age or individuals 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition. For more details on vaccine eligibility, I encourage you to visit the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) website at https://www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/immunize/vaccine.aspx.
If you are in group 1B, the first thing you should do is review the DSHS website for information on availability near you. Call a nearby provider for further details on the vaccine’s availability and how to get scheduled to receive a dose, and you can also call your own health care provider or area pharmacies such as H-E-B.
Many providers are still focusing on Phase 1A and do not have enough vaccines to begin 1B. In the coming weeks, Texas has been assured we will receive an uptick in available doses, with our own Austin Public Health receiving 12,000 doses here shortly. Currently, there are more than 200 pharmacies, doctors’ offices and hospital groups signed up to provide COVID-19 across Travis County.
This week, 100,000 new doses are expected to be shipped to large health care providers across the state. DSHS announced a new effort to organize large COVID-19 vaccination hubs to provide vaccines more quickly and easily than initial weeks.
As rollout continues, Austin Public Health (APH) remains a valuable resource for Travis County-specific updates online at austintexas.gov/covid19-vaccines. Each Tuesday, APH will publish new updates and serves as a critical information hub for our region.
No doubt, our needs are great. Not only do we have medical professionals who still await vaccination, we have so many waiting in the wings who urgently need access. Our teachers, grocery store workers, food service workers and others who shouldn’t be in the position of deciding between their job and their health and safety.
All the while, this past week held a new record for highest new cases of COVID-19 in a single day in Travis County. While vaccine availability continues to increase across our region, we cannot let up on the fundamental steps to protect ourselves and others – social distance, wash your hands frequently, and wear a mask.
Much has been asked of us to get to this point: Mask up; limit exposure to others; teach the kids; put food on the table; don’t do harm to one another and take a deep breath. We have come so far in the last year, let’s not blow it now.
We must continue to be safe. Our office will continue to push for more vaccines and more creative ways to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible, but we are looking at several more months of vaccine distribution before we can say we have contained this horrible virus. Thank you for all you are doing for yourselves, your families and your businesses to keep us marching forward to finally coming out on the winning end of this horrible but historic moment in time.