VACCINATION PROCRASTINATION

Getting COVID-19 vaccine still long shot for newest eligible Austin residents

Getting vaccine still long shot for newest eligible Austin residents

COVID-19 vaccine man getting shot doctor
Even though Texans in Phase 1C are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, Austin Public Health isn't currently prioritizing the group. WPA Pool / Getty Images

A new age group of Texans officially becomes eligible today to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. But local health organizations won’t be prioritizing them.

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced last week that people who fall into the Phase 1C category, those who are age 50 to 64, would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting on March 15. However, Austin Public Health says it will “continue to prioritize individuals who are in Phase 1A or 1B,” citing a lack of vaccination supply.

According to APH, the health authority expected to receive an increased allocation of vaccines from the state this week after the DSHS announced March 12 that some 800,000 first-dose vaccines — the third-largest allocation for the state — were headed to Texas. But based on the demand for the vaccination, what APH has on hand is not enough to prioritize Phase 1C, it says, noting, “Once we have additional vaccine, we will consider expanding eligibility in our system to Phase 1C.”

Those currently available to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from APH include people in Phase 1A (front-line healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities) and 1B (people 65 years or older and those 16 years old or older with a chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk from COVID-19), as well as those who work at a school or work as or for a certified child-care provider.

APH says it expects to receive approximately 30,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses this week, and will update its vaccine allocation list once those doses are received.

Elsewhere in Central Texas, Williamson County, which recently opened its drive-thru mass vaccination site at Dell Diamond, will also prioritize Phase 1A and 1B, though residents in the 1C category can still register for the Williamson County waitlist.

The announcement about vaccine eligibility comes just days after APH moved Austin and Travis County from Stage 4 to the lowered Stage 3 risk for the first time since mid-November. Stage 3 recommendations include the following:

  • Everyone should continue to wear a mask, be socially distant from others, and practice good hygiene.
  • High-risk individuals should avoid non-essential dining out, shopping, and travel.
  • Everyone should continue to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Businesses and restaurants can voluntarily operate at a reduced capacity of 50 to 75 percent.

“We have been successful in decreasing the risk of transmission in our community, but the virus that causes COVID-19 is still out there, and there are variants continuing to appear,” says Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, who also notes the “action represents a deliberate and measured step to relax guidance based upon the data and science. However, we must continue to mask, physically distance ourselves from others, and wash our hands frequently. If we continue with these simple measures, we will continue to experience a decline in cases and will avoid a deadly third surge.”