Thirty-eight Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives signed a Jan. 6 letter urging Gov. Greg Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstedt, the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, to improve the COVID-19 vaccination rollout process.
The letter written by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, addressed her constituents' confusion surrounding the state’s vaccine distribution. Goodwin said in a Jan. 6 tweet she has received calls from people "frustrated and confused" by the process.
1/ I've received calls from people frustrated & confused by the vaccination rollout in Texas. In response, I sent the below letter to Gov. Abbott & Dr. Hellerstedt at DSHS. We need better information about how vaccine prioritization and distribution decisions are beings made. pic.twitter.com/tWmyLWfW6l
— Rep. Vikki Goodwin (@VikkiGoodwinTX) January 6, 2021
“Many are unclear about who can get vaccinated and do not understand how to participate in the process,” Goodwin said. “Furthermore, it is not always clear that the policies that are in place are the ones being implemented.”
Goodwin went on to state that in certain cases luck or personal connections have aided residents in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine rather than the state’s official priorities.
Since vaccine distribution began in Texas on Dec. 14, approximately 1.38 million doses have been shipped, according to the DSHS’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard. Of those shipments, state providers have administered 482,045 doses as of Jan. 6, per the dashboard.
Guidelines provided by the DSHS stated front-line health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff living in long-term care facilities have first priority, or Phase 1A status for receiving a vaccine. Phase 1A included approximately 1.9 million Texans, according to DSHS. Yet, Goodwin stated the rollout has not been efficient.
“Texans should be celebrating the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccination but instead are frustrated that information from DSHS and the Governor's office conflicts with their own conversations with vaccine providers when trying to make appointments,” Goodwin said.
DSHS officials have also given the green light for providers to begin vaccinations for individuals included in Phase 1B, which includes those over the age of 65 or residents with certain medical conditions. However, in Travis County—Goodwin’s area of representation—Austin health representatives said the local distribution of COVID-19 vaccines remains in Phase 1A due to a lack of availability.
Among those prioritized for vaccine access, Goodwin urged the state to include teachers, school employees, grocery store employees and food service workers, among others.
Locally, Austin Regional Clinic said, like every state entity registered to provide COVID-19 vaccines, it has been inundated with requests.
The clinic has distributed between 700 to 1,000 vaccines every day since its first allotment Dec. 23, according to a Jan. 7 news release. Following this week’s vaccine appointments, ARC said it will have exhausted its supply.
According to the release, ARC is anticipating a limited shipment with the capacity to vaccinate 5% of the clinic’s patients aged 75 or older.
Furthermore, Goodwin said locally and across the state, vaccination locations are less concentrated in regions with high percentages of minority residents. As a result, Black elected Travis County officials expressed concern in a Jan. 4 letter regarding vaccine distribution in the Greater Austin area.
As the vaccine rollout continues throughout the state, Goodwin called upon Abbott and the DSHS to provide state legislators with frequent policy updates.
The group of state representatives also includes Rep. Carl Sherman Sr., D-Dallas, and Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston.
“The vaccines cannot be rolled out quickly and effectively unless Texans have confidence in the information they receive from DSHS, the governor, and their representatives," Goodwin said.