States across the country have been following the CDC’s recommendations regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution, prioritizing healthcare workers who have the most contact with COVID-19 patients and those in long-term care facilities.
The State of Texas has decided to stray away from those recommendations for the next phase of vaccine distribution.
The state's Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel has decided to move those who are 65 and older as well as those 16 or older with at least one chronic medical condition ahead of other frontline workers.
The CDC’s recommendations has other frontline workers ahead of both of these groups, but officials here in Texas say this decision was made to protect the most vulnerable.
The CDC’s recommendation is just that. The who, what, when, where and why decisions surrounding the vaccine allocation is left up to each individual state.
The Department of State Health Services reports a disproportionately high rate of deaths for those 65 and older.
“We know that our 65 and older group have had a huge, huge incidence of infection, a very high rate of hospitalizations, very high rates of death,” said Amy Mersiovsky, Director and Chair of the College of Nursing at A&M Central Texas.
“This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from COVID-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work," explained Imelda Garcia, EVAP chair and DSHS Associate Commissioner for Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services
“They’ve been decimated by the COVID-19. They’ve had many, many, many patients pass away from COVID-19, so they’re trying to protect those that can’t really protect themselves,” said Mersiovsky.
But with any decision comes some push back. Rick Beaulé, president of the Killeen Educators Association, explains while he understands the decision, due to the nature of their work, he feels educators and other frontline workers should be priority.
“There’s a lot of who deserves what and who doesn’t deserve what in terms of order and priority. Doctors make those choices. We hope they make good ones, but our concern is simply risk. It’s not about whether or not ones deserve it. It’s about the risk factor,” he said.
Beaulé says he is especially worried with Christmas and New Year's as well as teachers coming into contact with students who may be asymptomatic.
“The more variable you have, the more opportunities you have to spread the infection. I mean, we have already seen the way this virus spreads like wildfire. I mean yes, high-risk factors are worse, but it does not mean that everything is okay, and I think there’s a false sense of if you don’t have a high-risk factor then you’ll be okay,” he said.
Beaulé explains he can't say the EVAP made the wrong choice because every life is worth saving, but for now, it's just a waiting game.
“This is a case of where the panel is going to maybe not necessarily know if they get it right, but if they have police people in a different part of the queue and we see a huge spike in those areas we’re going to know if they got it wrong,” said Beaulé.
The state is in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which includes residents of long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare workers. It's not expected that the state will move forward with Phase 1B until early next year.