Virsus Outbreak Texas

Jennifer Lira, left, a child care specialist in the Spring Branch Independent School District receives a Pfizer vaccination shot from nurse Carolyn Roy during a vaccination drive for education workers Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Houston.

GALVESTON

The wait is almost over.

Beginning next week, most Texans no longer will have to consider their personal circumstances when they seek COVID-19 vaccinations.

On Monday, all Texans 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination, the Texas Department of State Health Services said Tuesday.

“We are closing in on 10 million doses administered in Texas, and we want to keep up the momentum as the vaccine supply increases,” said Imelda Garcia, the department’s associate commissioner for Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services and the chair of the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.

The announcement kicks off the final planned expansion of COVID-19 eligibility until vaccines are approved for children, which isn’t expected until late 2021 at the earliest, national health officials have said.

With the expansion, about 22.4 million Texans will be eligible for vaccinations, including 269,280 people in Galveston County, according to the state health department.

As of Tuesday morning, Texas had administered more than 9.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 6 million people have had at least one dose and more than 3 million are fully vaccinated.

Most vaccines are authorized for people 18 and older, but the FDA has authorized the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for people 16 and older.

In Galveston County, more than 87,000 people have received at least one dose and more than 49,000 people are fully vaccinated.

Galveston County officials used the news to emphasize everyone 16 and older should sign onto the county’s vaccine waiting list, which will make them eligible for vaccinations at Walter Hall Park in League City or at clinics operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Galveston County Health District.

“We want everyone to sign up as soon as possible,” Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser said.

The waiting list has been open to everyone for weeks, but some younger people and those without medical conditions might not have signed up for fear of jumping ahead of more vulnerable people, Keiser said.

Almost everyone on that list has been vaccinated, however, and health officials already had been administering vaccines to people outside of the state’s criteria, he said.

As of Tuesday, people 50 and older were eligible for vaccinations, along with people with health conditions, teachers, other school employees and frontline health care workers.

The expansion to all age groups other than children came as states across the nation had begun to greatly expand their pools of the eligible.

Mississippi and Alaska already had officially made vaccines available to people younger than 65. Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio and Michigan have announced plans make vaccines available to younger people in coming weeks. President Joe Biden set a goal to make all Americans eligible for vaccination by May 1.

The state will continue to prioritize vulnerable people for vaccination after Monday, officials said. People 80 and older who sign up for vaccinations will jump to front of the line, according to the state health department.

The new expansion comes just two weeks after Texas expanded its eligibly criteria to include people 50 and older, and less than three months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered people 65 and older eligible for vaccinations.

Abbott’s order came as Galveston County officials were expecting to deal only with frontline health workers, at a time when demand far exceeded supplies and before a centralized method of distributing vaccines had been established.

The order caught local officials off guard and forced them to scramble to begin distributing vaccines in venues other than hospital systems.

Soon after, local officials had to scramble again when they were ordered to create a vaccination hub.

The hub and creation of a waiting list has helped the health district and medical branch distribute more than 10,000 vaccinations a week in the county, officials have said.

The two agencies have received the vast majority of doses allotted to Galveston County.

With the hub system in place, health officials can accommodate a much larger pool of eligible people without disruption, Keiser said.

“I think we’re in a much better spot than we were before,” he said.

Health officials also plan to expand their outreach to under-vaccinated groups, such as Hispanic residents, and in ZIP codes reporting low vaccination rates, such as the western parts of the county, Keiser said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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Bailey Jones

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