Lawmakers ask Gov. Abbott to prioritize teachers, grocery and food workers in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — What State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, said was supposed to be cause for celebration, has turned into confusion and frustration.

Access to COVID-19 vaccines, and according to Goodwin, public information about how to get vaccinated, is lacking.

Goodwin wrote a letter with 37 other Texas House Democrats calling on Gov. Greg Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to clear up confusion on the state’s vaccine rollout.

“Unfortunately, when people contact my office with legitimate questions and concerns about these issues, I do not know what to tell them, because the State’s plan conflicts with what people are actually experiencing across the state,” Goodwin wrote.

“…in some cases blind luck or personal connections are supplanting the priorities your offices have established,” Goodwin’s group wrote.

“If we don’t have enough vaccine to give it to people with underlying health conditions, why in the world would we be giving it to people who don’t have any health conditions and are younger than 65?” Goodwin said in an interview Thursday.

The letter outlines a few main requests. Goodwin asked Abbott and Hellerstedt to prioritize teachers, school employees, daycare workers, grocery store employees and food service workers, when making considerations for coronavirus vaccine distribution. Goodwin also requested the State “take special care to distribute opportunities for vaccination widely and with an eye toward making them equally available to all Texans regardless of racial or ethnic background.”

She took issue with what she claimed is a mismatch between the information coming from the state and “what is actually happening across” Texas regarding Phase 1A and 1B vaccinations.

“After the state announced the beginning of Phase 1B vaccinations last week, for example, many of my constituents reported that providers were dispensing vaccines only in accordance with Phase 1A,” Goodwin stated.

“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,” the letter reads.

Goodwin criticized the immunization tracking system, which has posed problems for medical providers to the point the Texas Division of Emergency Management launched a separate map to chart where COVID-19 vaccines were available statewide. But this has left providers duplicating data entry.

In a statement, Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, highlighted several of the initiatives put forward by the state in this distribution phase of the pandemic.

“To keep the public informed, Gov. Abbott and TDEM recently launched a real-time reporting system to show vaccine usage data from healthcare providers across Texas so that Texans can see firsthand where vaccines and antibody therapeutic medications are available in their area,” Eze stated.

A Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson said the larger vaccination hubs announced on Thursday would “provide a simpler way for people in one of the priority groups to locate a provider and sign up to get vaccinated.”

“We’re also asking the providers conducting them to focus on areas and populations that have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said in an email, adding it would take time to vaccinate for everyone in the priority groups who wants to be, and patience in the process by all was appreciated.

“With providers directed to focus on communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, these large vaccination hubs will enable us to allocate more vaccines to local health departments and community clinics that often serve diverse populations,” Eze wrote in the emailed statement Thursday. “As we continue to vaccinate health care workers, residents at nursing homes, and Texans over 65 or with a chronic medical condition, we are reaching people across communities, occupations, and races.”

“The state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel recommended prioritizing people 65 and over and who have certain medical conditions since they are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19,” Van Deusen said. “Teachers, food workers and others in those higher risk groups are certainly eligible to be vaccinated.”

DSHS reiterated the agency holds weekly calls with lawmakers to keep them apprised of rollout information.

Goodwin said state health leaders held a conference call with members of the Travis County legislative delegation on Thursday, which she called “helpful.” She acknowledged state leaders were working to improve communications, update the immunization charting system, and increase vaccine doses statewide.

“I do feel optimistic,” Goodwin said Thursday afternoon.

“I’m still not satisfied that they have determined where teachers and grocery store workers and essential workers fit,” she said. “They don’t have them categorized yet, which to me is a concern. I really think that people would feel a little bit better if they just knew, ‘Oh, I can count on getting my dose in February or March or at some certain time,’ and they still aren’t there yet.”

“I think that they (DSHS) understand the frustrations that are out there, and I do think that they’re gonna work hard to roll things out more smoothly in the future,” she said.

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