Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine began arriving in Texas in mid-December, marking a significant milestone in the battle against the virus. But it will be months before vaccine doses are widely available, and the rollout is leaving eligible Texans with more questions than answers.
For now, the limited supply is prioritized for front-line health care workers and certain high-risk populations.
State health officials announced just before Christmas that older people and those with qualifying health conditions are also eligible.
As of Feb. 22, 3.1 million Texans had received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, both of which require two shots up to six weeks apart, and 1.4 million Texans had been fully inoculated. Texas could initially receive more than 200,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. As of Feb. 27, the agency had not received a timeline for when they would arrive.
Who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas?
Front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff are the prioritized groups to receive doses of the vaccine as part of Phase 1A of distribution.
Phase 1B prioritizes Texans who are 65 years and older, and people who are at least 16 and have qualifying health conditions that put them at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the CDC some of these conditions are:
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Down Syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
- Severe Obesity (BMI ? 40 kg/m2)
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
I meet the Phase 1B eligibility. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Texans in group 1B were eligible to receive doses of the vaccine starting Dec. 21. But supplies are in short order and likely will be for weeks. This issue isn’t unique to Texas, as several other states have reported issues — short supplies, system crashes, and unanswered questions — when distributing vaccine doses to senior citizens and others.
There are about 1.9 million eligible Texans in Phase 1A. Phase 1B has an estimated 8 million people, although state officials said an undetermined number of people fall under both groups. A shipment of vaccine doses in January was expected to bring the state’s total allotment to 1.7 million since mid-December.
What kind of documentation is needed to qualify for Phase 1B?
The Texas Department of State Health Services is leaving documentation requirements up to providers and has not provided guidance on how they should check for qualifying conditions. If you believe you qualify for Phase 1B, contact your health care provider or doctor to ask what documentation is needed to receive a vaccine.
As for identification, the state has said there are no residency requirements for the vaccine, and providers should not require proof of residency, according to KERA. However, some counties have been issuing their own requirements.
What happens to me if they open it up for the next section, Phase 1C, and I am still not vaccinated?
You can still get vaccinated in the next phase if you did not do so in your designated group, according to the DSHS plan.
The state estimates that the vaccine will be available for the general public this spring, but that may change depending on the speed of vaccine production. The Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel is still considering what criteria will be used for later stages of vaccine distribution. This webpage will be updated when those decisions have been made.
Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Check with your health care provider.
The vaccine will be available at a range of health care providers — like health clinics and hospitals — but most people will likely get vaccinated at their doctor’s office or a pharmacy. Some providers are also requiring Texans to register for an appointment to get the vaccine to minimize traffic flow.
We’ve heard from a number of Texans who have been unable to make an appointment to get a vaccine in their areas. Keep trying in the weeks to come — the state is expected to get more vaccines over the next few months and more and more people will be eligible.
CVS, Walgreens, and PharmScript are working with the federal government directly to deliver vaccinations to long-term care facilities. Administration of those doses was scheduled to start Dec. 28. H-E-B has launched a registration portal and is offering COVID-19 vaccinations at select locations.
Gov. Greg Abbott said in December that more than 7,200 providers across the state had enrolled to administer vaccine doses as they become available. Among these are state designated “vaccination hubs” capable of vaccinating up to 100,000 people — helping streamline distribution as the number of eligible Texans grows. Contact information for the hubs can be found here.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state emergency management officials have also begun running mass vaccination sites aimed at underserved communities in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. The sites are NRG Stadium in Houston, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and Fair Park in Dallas. Residents need a reservation before showing up to these sites. FEMA is getting the names of Texans eligible to receive their vaccinations at these sites from those already signed up with the counties, according to NBC DFW.
The governor has also said some 1,100 members of the Texas National Guard will administer vaccines to older people in their homes in rural and isolated areas of the state. The renewed effort to reach older Texans who are unable to leave or have difficulty leaving their homes, an effort dubbed Save Our Seniors, launched Feb. 22. The state will work with organizations like Meals On Wheels and nursing groups to identify homebound older Texans who have a volunteer to be vaccinated.
It is an expansion of a mobile vaccination program run for several weeks by the Texas Division of Emergency Management and is modeled after local programs that partner with nonprofit organizations to identify homebound older people in need of the vaccines, state leaders said.
The Lone Star State is prepared to swiftly distribute the #COVID19 vaccine within 24-48 hours of arrival to those who voluntarily choose to be immunized.
A Texas-sized thank you to Operation Warp Speed for making this historic distribution possible. https://t.co/L17rt9H5ku
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) December 8, 2020
Why is my provider saying they don’t have a vaccine available?
As thousands of Texans have come to discover in recent weeks, doses of the coronavirus vaccine have remained in short supply.
Shipments of the vaccine first began arriving at Texas hospitals on Dec. 14. Under Phase 1A of the state’s rollout, the limited supply was reserved for front-line health care workers, as well as residents and staff members of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which have been decimated by the virus.
On Dec. 21, Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of DSHS, said that Texans 65 and older, and people who are at least 16 with certain medical conditions, would be next in line. This group is referred to as 1B.
State data initially suggested there would be an ample supply of vaccine doses — enough to expand eligibility to the 1B group weeks ahead of time. But the state has dealt with a short supply of doses, poor messaging from state officials, technical errors, and logistical delays. The winter storm in February also caused vaccination delays.
How much will the COVID-19 vaccine cost?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires that vaccine doses purchased with taxpayer dollars be given at no cost. But providers are allowed to charge an administration fee, which can be reimbursed through insurance. People without insurance will not be charged, according to DSHS.
For people covered under Medicare or Medicaid, the federal government will cover the cost of the vaccine and any fees.
Texas’ COVID-19 vaccination plan requires providers to administer the vaccine “regardless of the vaccine recipient’s ability to pay COVID-19 vaccine administration fees.”