Texas Makes Any Adult Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccine - 03/28/21 - Segment 1
KAREN BORTA: Hello, I'm Karen Borta and this is To The Point. A big announcement from the state last Tuesday, anyone over the age of 16 in Texas is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Our Ken Molestina got to the point with the spokesperson of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Chris Van Deusen.
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: It's a big step, you know, something we've been looking forward to just as everybody else has since the last year, since we went into, you know, the first COVID-related restrictions and saw those early cases. So it certainly is a big step and really kind of shows the progress and how far we've come just over the last 3 plus months of getting people vaccinated.
You know, we are looking back at-- You know, we started this in mid-December, and now, a little bit more than three months later, we, in the next few days, will administer the 10 millionth dose of vaccine in Texas. So it really does give us a demonstration of how far we've come. But we've still got work left to do, and to get that done, we want to make sure more people are eligible to be vaccinated. So--
KEN MOLESTINA: Talk about how we got to this step, I mean, how did we get here so quickly?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, it's, you know, a little bit more quickly than we expected. You know, obviously it was very important to prioritize those who were most critical to be protected first, you know, starting out with the health care workers, people in long term care facilities, just because we wanted to preserve the health care system. And then, obviously, the focus since then has been on vaccinating people who are at a bigger risk of getting really, really sick if they get COVID-19, ending up in the hospital and dying, so people who are older adults or who have some kind of underlying health conditions.
And that's been going well. You know, it's not uniform across the state, of course. Texas is a big state, very diverse. But we've been hearing from some of the providers out there that in some areas they're really getting through their waiting list, getting to the end of those, and so this change next week will give them the flexibility to keep vaccinating people in their communities while there are still other providers that, you know, still need to focus, of course, on those high priority populations as well.
KEN MOLESTINA: So that's kind of one of the things that I wanted to touch on with you because we're hearing up here in North Texas, you know, that there are additional vaccines that are being made available, whether they received more than they needed, whether people are just hesitant to go get the vaccine. But what are you all seeing as far as your volume? Are you getting new vaccines and that's why you can now open it to the state, or is this a surplus that you don't want to go bad?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, it's exactly-- So we are expecting to get more vaccine. It looks like we'll get more than a million first doses next week from the federal government, and then what we are hearing from our federal partners is that they expect that to increase in the month of April as well. And so, you know, that's another thing that let's us shift this is over. We want to make sure that any vaccine we get is getting out to providers and getting in arms as quickly as possible.
KEN MOLESTINA: So every adult Texan above the age of 16 will be eligible to go ahead and grab that vaccine if they want it, but are you expecting, in fact, a big rush, or do you think it'll be scaled back? I mean, do you think everyone is just going to flood these vaccine centers now?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: You know, I think there is still demand out there, you know. I expect at least, for a little while longer, we're going to see demand outpacing the supply of the vaccine. Now, you know, more and more people will get vaccinated, and so that demand will decrease, and the supply is going to continue to increase. So at some point, we're going to get to a point where, you know, that's matched up, or we may even see supply exceeding demand.
And then, at that point it really helps out because we're kind of in a more normal state, and that means, you know, as we get more vaccine, we'll be able to get it out to more types of providers, you know, more pharmacies, more doctors offices, places people are used to getting vaccinated, you know, for the flu, for example. And so they'll be able to access vaccine at those normal places. We can kind of back off this allocation model that we've had, and then providers can simply order it as they need it and use it as they see patients.
KEN MOLESTINA: For some of the more rural parts of the state, what are you seeing as far as folks being able to access those vaccines?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, it is something that's been a priority for us and the expert vaccine allocation panel that has been working through these allocations. We want to make sure vaccines are available, whether you're in an urban area, a rural area, suburban, anything in between. So it's definitely part of the planning and the distribution that's gone into effect, you know. I think, by and large, we're seeing vaccine available. There are certainly areas where we have seen lower uptake as far as just the percentage of the population vaccinated, you know, East Texas, for example, kind of along the Louisiana border.
So we really redouble our efforts. So I know the state of our seniors teams, through the Texas military department, have been focusing on some of those areas. Our regional health departments that work in areas that don't have a local health department have been holding clinics and vaccinating, particularly people of color, and people who are older adults, who may not have other easy ways to access vaccine, maybe there aren't a lot of vaccine providers in those counties and areas. And so, yeah, that definitely continues to be a big priority for us on the public health side.
KEN MOLESTINA: I am glad that you brought that up, the point of the different diverse communities receiving the vaccine because there's been a little bit of a disparity, at least in North Texas. We know that, within some minority communities, they're not necessarily accessing the vaccines as easily as some other communities are. And part of that has to do with, as you said, the physical accessibility to it, you know. Being able to get some of these vaccination sites versus a doctor's office, versus the pharmacy down the street. But you're saying all of that could potentially change with the addition of more vaccines coming into the state.
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Well, you know, it's really an all-of-the-above approach, right. You know, we saw early on the great success with the big health providers in this kind of centralizing that vaccine, letting people know, OK, this is where vaccine is going to be available in your community. That doesn't mean everybody can get it all at once, but, you know, it provided an identifiable location. People didn't have to call every pharmacy in the phone book, you know, every week looking for a vaccine.
But as vaccine becomes more and more available, you know, we can kind of transition back to getting it out to all of those different locations. And it's going to take all of those approaches working together with the big hubs, regular providers like doctors offices, you know, state teams, and, you know, public health efforts as well. And so, you know, I think with having all of those working together, you know, it really gives us the best chance to vaccinate the wide diversity of people in Texas.
KEN MOLESTINA: When the vaccines were first being rolled out, the message was, be patient. We'll get to you, and we'll get to you as soon as we can. It sounds like that patience for a lot of people will pay off here shortly, in short order. What is the new message to the communities across Texas and North Texas as they consider getting that vaccine starting Monday?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, I think it's much along the same lines as that, you know, vaccine is still coming. We're still going to get more and more vaccine every week. And so, you know, because we're opening it up to a broader population doesn't mean everybody can get it on Monday, or everybody can get it next week. It's still going to take some time to work through that population. So by our estimate, it's another eight or 10 million people who will be eligible to get the vaccine starting next week.
And so if we're getting a million or a million plus doses, it's still going to take several weeks to work through those individuals who want to be vaccinated. So still get on those waiting lists, make those calls, make those appointments, but just recognize, you know, you certainly still appreciate people's patience in that, you know, it's still going to take some time as those appointments fill up and vaccine continues to come throughout the next several weeks.
KEN MOLESTINA: And the process for it stays the same, right? You have to make an appointment, and you just show up whenever you're given that time and date.
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, it's generally the same. Now, we are going to be launching a new website and toll free number next week for the public health system that's going to help centralize some of that. Now, it's not going to be for every vaccine provider, you know, it's not going to cover, for example, the pharmacies or some of the big sites that have their own registration and have had that going for a long time. But we want to be able to support local health departments and our regional offices. So for the public health system, we'll have more information about that next week when it launches. But there will be a more centralized way that you can, you know, register for a vaccine through public health providers that participate in that, so just another resource for people as they look to vaccinate.
KEN MOLESTINA: And Chris, just to be clear here, we're still talking about the two versions, correct, the Pfizer and the Moderna, the two dose option? We're not talking the Johnson & Johnson single dose?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: The Johnson & Johnson, so that continues to be available. We're expecting, you know-- so we've got a big push on that a few weeks ago and then, you know, have been getting a lot less in Texas, just as supply kind of ramps back up, and Johnson & Johnson and their partners over at Pfizer are making it.
So we're going to see more doses of Johnson & Johnson next week, fortunately, and that's the single dose vaccine. So that's a lot more convenient for a lot of people. And then, you know, we're also expecting a couple more vaccines before too long. So from our best understanding, both Novavax, which is a new manufacturer, as well as AstraZenec, are going to be presenting their data and applying to the FDA for authorization sometime in April, at least that's what we're expecting. And so, you know, if those are approved, that'll be another source of doses that we can get.
KEN MOLESTINA: Right. And that'll certainly be a game changer for this entire process and for the efforts to get Texans vaccinated. Chris, before I leave you, there is one other thing that I wanted to ask you. Something pretty strange happened on Monday. I'm sure you heard about it. A convoy of National Guard troops, they were transporting vaccine here in the state of Texas, and somebody held them at gunpoint. Is there a concern that more of these types of events or acts could potentially happen as more vaccine is being transported across our highways here in Texas. I mean, are you all concerned that something like that could happen again?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: I don't have a lot of details. I certainly did see the reporting on that. It seems like it was just kind of a one-off incident. I certainly don't expect it. Now, if you remember, most of the vaccine is being transported by, you know, FedEx and UPS and, you know, those kinds of regular shipping companies, but certainly, we know the military department, as they do their vaccine efforts, are transporting it as well. So certainly they're going to be on guard for that kind of thing going forward, but I don't know that it's something that we really expect to continue to happen. Thank goodness, and thank goodness nobody was seriously hurt or nothing really went bad with that.
KEN MOLESTINA: Yeah, you're right on that. OK, any last message or word of advice for folks beginning Monday?
CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: Yeah, you know, I think the last word really would be just that, you know, it is important to get vaccinated. So, you know, I know people have been waiting, maybe they don't want to get in the line or get on a waiting list. So, you know, just continue to monitor vaccine availability in your area. It is going to be so important for all of us, as many people as possible, to get vaccinated because, you know, we continue to see the variant types of cases circulate in Texas. We don't want those to get out of control, you know. We've had more than 500 of those identified in Texas so far. Most are the UK variant. And so the more people are vaccinated, the more we can keep a handle on those, keep those from spreading and seeing a big uptick in cases and deaths or seeing new variants emerge. So the more we can do to keep cases down, the more people vaccinated, the more people continue to wear masks, keep that social distance whenever you're in public, the better off we're going to be.
KAREN BORTA: With vaccinations opening up to adults in Texas, counties are getting ready for what they expect to be a rush of new people wanting a shot. But one county says one part of the procedure will not change. We'll get to the point next.