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Abbott: Texas poised to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 3/2/2021 Nicole Cobler, Austin American-Statesman
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Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday the launch of a statewide program to vaccinate homebound older adults, saying he expects vaccine shipments to ramp up in the coming weeks, which will allow Texas to move on to new tiers of vaccine recipients "sometime in March."

Texas currently allows COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers and other first responders, those 65 and older and 16 and older with underlying health conditions.

It's not clear who will be next in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine in Texas. The state's Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel will determine the next group, which must be approved by Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

MORE: Who is next for COVID vaccine in Texas? Abbott advisor says maybe middle-aged people

"The good news is there's going to be a record amount of vaccines available across Texas this week, with increasing numbers going forward," Abbott said, speaking from a fire station in Corpus Christi.

The state is set to receive 1.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccine this week, which will include second doses and vaccine doses that were delayed due to last week's winter storms. Abbott said President Joe Biden has told him the state will receive even more than that "in the coming days."

Greg Abbott wearing a suit and tie: Lockhart, Texas Feb. 1, 2021: Texas Governor Greg Abbott prepares to deliver his State of the State speech at Visionary Fiber Technologies outside Lockhart, TX. Abbott is proposing expansion of telemedicine and increased broadband access for rural Texans among other policies. © Bob Daemmrich, Daemmrich/CapitolPressPhoto/Pool Lockhart, Texas Feb. 1, 2021: Texas Governor Greg Abbott prepares to deliver his State of the State speech at Visionary Fiber Technologies outside Lockhart, TX. Abbott is proposing expansion of telemedicine and increased broadband access for rural Texans among other policies.

The increase in supply will allow the state to expand beyond those currently eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Abbott said, adding that he expects the Texas to move beyond 1A and 1B groups in March.

"With the amount of the vaccines that we are getting, I would anticipate it being very soon," he said.

News: Here's how many people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in Travis County

Abbott also said the increase in vaccinations could lead to the end of coronavirus restrictions, including the statewide mask order. Most Texas businesses, including restaurants, must keep their occupancy rates at 75%. Businesses in areas where coronavirus patients make up more than 15% of available beds must reduce occupancy to 50%; bars in those areas must close and elective surgical procedures must halt. 

Two hospital regions — the El Paso and Laredo areas — remain under the tightened restrictions because coronavirus hospitalizations have remained over 15% for at least seven days.

“We’re working right now on evaluating when we’re going to be able to remove all statewide orders, and we will be making announcements about that pretty soon,” Abbott said.

In an Austin City Council briefing Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler said he hoped a quick to the state's mask order was "not true."

"I hope it doesn't come until we don't have people dying," Adler said.

Nearly 3.2 million Texans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, or 11.6% of the state, according to state health data. Nearly 1.5 million Texans are fully vaccinated.

MORE: Vaccine doses were delayed, spoiled as storm gripped Texas. The state is racing to get back on track

The threshold for herd immunity for the coronavirus is unknown, but health experts, including White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said it's likely higher than 70%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans who have been vaccinated to continue wearing a mask and maintain social distancing after receiving a coronavirus vaccine because it's not yet clear if a person who has received the vaccine can still spread the disease.

Vaccinating older adults remains one of the state's top priorities, Abbott said. The statewide program, which will launch next week, will deploy more than 1,100 Texas National Guard soldiers to help communities vaccinate homebound older adults.

More than 40% of those 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose in Texas, and Abbott said the state's goal is to have all those older adults vaccinated by the end of March. 

The Texas initiative will be modeled on a program in Corpus Christi that has allowed the city to administer roughly 2,000 doses to homebound older adults through a partnership with the Meals on Wheels program and fire department. San Antonio and Arlington offer similar programs for their older adults.

Texas will dedicate 8,000 vaccine doses in the program's first week and will work with community and elderly care groups to identify the homebound, according to the governor's office. 

"Some of our seniors do have the ability to go to these vaccine hubs or to some other location, such as a drug store and get a vaccine," Abbott said. "However, there are other seniors who don't have the physical ability to travel to one of these hubs because they're homebound."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Abbott: Texas poised to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine

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