Dozens Of Texas Lawmakers Call For Changes To State's Vaccine Distribution Plan

Jan 8, 2021
Originally published on January 8, 2021 1:52 pm

A group of state lawmakers wants major changes to the plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Texas, including changing the order of priority for who can get the vaccine.

This comes after more than a week of confusion and frustration among Texans who are unsure if they qualify to get the vaccine — and if they do, where they’re supposed to get it.

“Many are unclear about who can get vaccinated and do not understand how to participate in the process,” state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “Furthermore, it is not always clear that the policies that are in place are the ones being implemented: in some cases blind luck or personal connections are supplanting the priorities your offices have established.”

The letter was co-signed by 37 other state lawmakers. The lawmakers ask for four specific changes in the vaccination strategy.

First, they want workers in jobs that require they interact with other people to be moved up the priority list. Specifically, they want teachers, day care workers, grocery store workers and food service workers to be given priority.

Right now, it’s not clear when — or even if — those workers would become eligible solely on the basis of their job.

Second, the lawmakers want the state to do a better job distributing the vaccine in areas that are home to higher concentrations of Black and Latino people. In Austin, local leaders have pointed to disparities in the geographic dispersion of vaccine providers. There is a heavy concentration of providers on the city’s west side, but nearly none in the eastern parts of the city and Travis County, which have historically been home to residents of color.

“In light of the fact that Black and Latino populations have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19, I have concerns about this pattern being replicated statewide,” Goodwin writes.

The state announced today that it would begin directing large shipments of vaccines to "hubs" that can administer thousands of doses in a short period. This contrasts with the strategy up until now, which had largely relied on smaller shipments to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices.

Third, the letter asks for more frequent updates to state lawmakers about vaccine distribution. Goodwin writes that when constituents call her office for information, her staff doesn’t necessarily know what to tell them because of poor communication from state agencies and because state guidance often conflicts with what people are experiencing in reality.

Lastly, Goodwin and her colleagues ask that information coming from the state be reliable. She points to the sudden start of Phase 1B of the vaccine plan last week. The state ordered providers to begin vaccinating people 65 and older and people with certain underlying health conditions. But most providers didn’t have enough vaccines to begin serving this group, so people were turned away when they sought out vaccine doses.

Got a tip? Email Matt Largey at mlargey@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.

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