Vaccine Eligibility Is Expanding. Here’s What You Need To Know.
Health officials in Texas want as many residents as possible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. They’ve made all adults eligible and created a website to help get folks registered. Here’s what you need to know.
Beginning on Monday, March 29, all Texans over the age of 18 will be allowed to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. They’ll still have to register with a provider to receive a dose.
But KERA reporters Bret Jaspers and Hady Mawajdeh say the expanded eligibility means more doses and possibly shorter wait times.
Why Did COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expand So Rapidly In Texas?
There are a couple of reasons that the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has decided to expand eligibility.
First, a lot of the initial kinks in many counties’ online registration websites have been fixed and the supply of COVID-19 vaccines that Texas has received from the federal government has been pretty dependable. That combination allowed for providers in Texas to administer more than 1 million doses each week for the past four weeks.
Texas vaccine providers are to continue to prioritize people who are the most at risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death – such as older adults.— Texas DSHS (@TexasDSHS) March 23, 2021
Over 3M Texans are fully vaccinated and over 6M have received at least one dose. pic.twitter.com/o27N7xCm2S
The second reason that eligibility expanded so quickly is that the federal government has increased vaccine allocations. The week of March 29, Texas is expected to receive more than one million COVID-19 vaccines. That’s one of the largest number of vaccines allocated to the state so far. A spokesperson for DSHS told KERA that they expect those numbers to keep growing during April.
What’s The Deal With This New Registration Website?
The same day that the Texas DSHS announced the expanded eligibility, officials also announced that they would be launching a website called the Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler.
This website will allow Texans to register for vaccines through certain public health providers. But perhaps more importantly, the site will allow residents to sign up and land appointments at pop-up vaccine events hosted by DSHS and participating partners.
In previous months, officials in Dallas County had told KERA that DSHS was planning to launch a statewide registration site. During press events with the media, DSHS officials had said something was “in the works.” But nothing official had been announced until March 23.
DSHS also plans to set up a toll-free phone number for people to call for help registering for the vaccine. Both the website and the phone line will be ready for use sometime next week.
For more info from DSHS about vaccines, visit: www.dshs.texas.gov/covidvaccine.
If I Just Became Eligible For A Vaccine, How Can I Register?
The first step is registering in your county or a nearby county to get vaccinated at a 'large vaccination hub.' The hubs are getting the bulk of the doses handed out by Texas DSHS.
After you've registered with your county, you should give your healthcare provider a call to make sure you’re registered on their list.
If you're still without an appointment after those steps, you should begin checking out Texas DSHS' weekly COVID-19 Vaccine Allocations. This web page will tell you how many vaccines are being sent to the state. The web page will let you know which providers got vaccines, and how many.
If you spot a place near you, don’t show up at the hospital or clinic looking for a vaccine. Instead, visit the providers’ website for information about vaccine availability.
If you can’t find the information you need on a provider's website, give the provider a call and ask them to get you placed on a waiting list. (Note: Supplies are increasing, but still limited.)
Need more info? KERA News has a regularly updated web post with information about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Does Expanded Eligibility Affect On-The-Ground Operations?
Tarrant, Collin, Denton and Dallas Counties are saying there won’t be a tremendous change to what they’re doing.
Dallas County said it will still require appointments, and still prioritize the groups that are most vulnerable to the virus. County Judge Clay Jenkins has long urged people to register on the county’s site so they would already be in line when eligibility expanded.
Collin County contracts with the biotech firm Curative Medical Associates, which opens up slots online each Friday. It’s a first-come, first-serve way to schedule vaccine appointments at John Clark Stadium in Plano.
Curative General Manager Jamil Sabbagh said the oldest patients can get help scheduling an appointment in person.
“If patients are 80 years or older and need help registering for vaccine appointments, our sites have designated team members on hand to help them through the booking process,” Sabbagh said. “If there’s no vaccine appointments that are available on that specific day, the team member will work with the patient to schedule them a future appointment.”
Expanded Eligibility Doesn’t Solve All The Problems.
Expanding who is eligible for a vaccine doesn’t necessarily address issues that have plagued the public health response to the pandemic since the beginning: disproportionate access to transportation and the internet, a lack of vaccine information inlanguages other than English and fewer doctors and clinics in poorer neighborhoods.
At an early March event in Dallas offering free rides to Fair Park, Domitila Mendoza of Dallas told KERA she had been registered for a while, but the 54-year-old couldn’t get to her appointment.
“I don't have a car and that's why I came here,” she said.
Fewer New COVID-19 Cases And Hospitalizations.
The other good news is new cases and hospitalizations have declined due to COVID-19. State data shows a steady drop since a peak of 14,218 COVID hospitalizations in Texas on Jan. 11. There were 3,461 hospitalizations on Tuesday.
In response to an improving situation, Dallas County dropped its “risk guidance” level from high community risk to moderate. There is still a lot of COVID in the community, so health officials still suggest doing almost all activities with a mask on. They also stress the continued importance of social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings.
Under high risk, however, activities like going to a barbershop or to an in-person church were outright discouraged. Moderate guidance generally says it’s best to avoid those things in person, but if you do them, wear a mask, socially distance and limit the size of the group.
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