There are far more Texans eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine than doses available. Here’s what you need to know about getting one.

By Shawn Mulcahy and Elvia Limón, The Texas Tribune Dec. 23, 2020
Posted 1/15/21

There are far more Texans eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine than doses available. Here’s what you need to know about getting one.

By Shawn Mulcahy and Elvia Limón, The Texas …

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There are far more Texans eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine than doses available. Here’s what you need to know about getting one.

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Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine began arriving in Texas in mid-December, marking a significant milestone in the battle against the virus. But it will be months before vaccine doses are widely available, and the rollout is leaving eligible Texans with more questions than answers.

For now, the limited supply is prioritized for front-line health care workers and certain high-risk populations.

State health officials announced just before Christmas that older people and those with qualifying health conditions are also eligible.

On Jan. 11, Gov. Greg Abbott said more than 877,000 Texans had received the vaccine since it first began arriving in Texas. The number is expected to increase by at least 50,000 more per day, he said.

Who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas?

Front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff are the prioritized groups to receive doses of the vaccine as part of Phase 1A of distribution.

Phase 1B prioritizes Texans who are 65 years and older, and people who are at least 16 and have qualifying health conditions that put hem at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, some of these conditions are:

  • Cancer.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy.
  • Solid organ transplantation.
  • Obesity and severe obesity.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Sickle cell disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

I meet the Phase 1B eligibility. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Texans in group 1B were eligible to receive doses of the vaccine starting Dec. 21. But supplies are in short order and likely will be for weeks. This issue isn’t unique to Texas, as several others states have reported issues — short supplies, system crashes and unanswered questions — when distributing vaccine doses to senior citizens and others.

There are about 1.9 million eligible Texans in Phase 1A. Phase 1B has an estimated 8 million people, although state officials said an undetermined number of people fall under both groups. A shipment of vaccine doses in January was expected to bring the state’s total allotment to 1.7 million since mid-December.

Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Check with your health care provider.

The vaccine will be available at a range of health care providers — like health clinics and hospitals — but most people will likely get vaccinated at their doctor’s office or a pharmacy. Some providers are also requiring Texans to register for an appointment to get the vaccine to minimize traffic flow.

We’ve heard from a number of Texans who have been unable to make an appointment to get a vaccine in their areas. Keep trying in the weeks to come — the state is expected to get more vaccines over the next few months and more and more people will be eligible.

CVS, Walgreens and PharmScript are working with the federal government directly to deliver vaccinations to long-term care facilities. Administration of those doses was scheduled to start Dec. 28. H-E-B has launched a registration portal and has said those in phase 1B will soon be able to make an appointment to receive the vaccine at their pharmacies. But a firm date has not yet been set.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced in December that more than 7,200 providers across the state had enrolled to administer vaccine doses when they become available. Among these are state designated “vaccination hubs” capable of vaccinating up to 100,000 people — helping streamline distribution as the number of eligible Texans grows, state officials said earlier this month. But even with these hubs, there is still a shortage of vaccine doses. Contact information for the hubs can be found here.

Why is my provider saying they don’t have a vaccine available?

As thousands of Texans have come to discover in recent weeks, doses of the coronavirus vaccine have remained in short supply.

Shipments of the vaccine first began arriving at Texas hospitals on Dec. 14. Under Phase 1A of the state’s rollout, the limited supply was reserved for front-line health care workers, as well as residents and staff members of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which have been decimated by the virus.

On Dec. 21, Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of DSHS, announced that Texans 65 and older, and people who are at least 16 with certain medical conditions, would be next in line. This group is referred to as 1B.

The state data suggested an ample supply of vaccine doses — enough to expand eligibility to the 1B group weeks ahead of time. But the state has actually been dealing with a short supply of doses, poor messaging from state officials, technical errors and logistical delays.

How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires that vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer dollars be given at no cost. But providers are allowed to charge an administration fee, which can be reimbursed through insurance. People without insurance will not be charged, according to DSHS.

For people covered under Medicare or Medicaid, the federal government will cover the cost of the vaccine and any fees.

Texas’ COVID-19 vaccination plan requires providers to administer the vaccine “regardless of the vaccine recipient’s ability to pay COVID-19 vaccine administration fees.”

How many shots of the vaccine do I need?

The coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States need two shots to be effective, according to the CDC. However, there is a vaccine in Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States that uses one shot.

Once you’ve received both doses of the vaccine, health experts still recommend wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth when you're outside of your home.

How is Texas keeping track of who’s gotten the first dose? 

The Texas Department of State Health Services has a map that tracks where doses of the coronavirus vaccines are going and how many people are receiving them. The state’s dashboard also separates the numbers by the phase — either 1A or 1B.

But the state’s numbers could lag up to two days behind what's happening on the ground. Providers have 24 hours to report their vaccination statistics to the agency, which updates its numbers each afternoon with data reported by midnight the day before.

Who decides who is eligible to receive doses of the vaccine?

Decisions on how doses of the vaccine are allocated are made by a state panel of advisers — including lawmakers, state and local health officials, and medical experts and researchers. The group, known as the Expert Vaccine Advisory Panel, provides recommendations for final approval by Hellerstedt.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Yes. Although some Texans have expressed hesitancy toward the vaccine, health experts and public officials widely agree that the vaccine is safe. The two currently approved developers — Pfizer and Moderna — reported their vaccines are 95% and 94% effective, respectively.

While no vaccine is without side effects, clinical trials for both Pfizer and Moderna show serious reactions are rare.

Abbott received his first dose of the vaccine last month, telling reporters, “I will never ask a Texan to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

Do I need to get the vaccine if I already had the virus? 

The short answer is yes. Health experts still don't know how long natural immunity lasts after someone gets COVID-19, but there has been evidence suggesting it does not last very long. The vaccine can offer you protection against the coronavirus even after you've had it.

When will Texas get more COVID-19 vaccine doses?

New doses of the vaccine will continue to arrive in Texas over the coming months. Public health experts estimate it will take between six and nine months for the vaccine to be widely available to everyone who wants it.

Health officials have also said more vaccination hubs capable of helping thousands of Texans will be announced as weekly shipments get bigger. In announcing the plan this month, the Texas Department of State Health Services said the hubs will be required to set up registration phone numbers and websites and to focus on the most vulnerable communities in their regions. Contact information for the hubs can be found here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/12/23/coronavirus-vaccine-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

"There are far more Texans eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine than doses available. Here’s what you need to know about getting one." was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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