AUSTIN, Texas — After recently expanding vaccine eligibility to teachers and child care workers, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that, starting March 15, people aged 50 to 64 will now be eligible too, kicking off Phase 1C across the state.
Currently, in addition to teachers, frontline workers and those in long-term care facilities, the vaccine is also available to people 65 or older and people 16 and up who have health conditions that make them at higher risk with COVID-19.
According to the DSHS, more than 93% of the state's fatalities caused by the virus have been in people 50 or older, with people in the range of 50 to 64 accounting for 20% of all deaths.
“We’ve seen a remarkable decrease in the number of hospitalizations and deaths since people 65 and older started becoming fully vaccinated in January,” said Imelda Garcia, DSHS associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services and chair of the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. “Expanding to ages 50 to 64 will continue the State’s priorities of protecting those at the greatest risk of severe outcomes and preserving the state’s health care system.”
The DSHS reports that more than half of all Texas seniors have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and 30% are now fully vaccinated.
"The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Texas hospitals has fallen by two-thirds from its peak in mid-January," the DSHS said. "There are about 5 million Texans between the ages of 50 and 64; more than 1 million of them are already vaccinated."
Those 50 to 64 years old are the priority group for Phase 1C in Texas.
"As Texas progresses into Phase 1C in the coming weeks, the state will continue to work with vaccine providers and other local partners to ensure that people who are in Phase 1A, 1B and 1C have access to the vaccine," the DSHS said Wednesday. "Individual providers will have the flexibility to further prioritize vaccination within these groups."
At least one former nurse who is part of the 1B group says the State should not have opened up the next phase without first completing either of the previous 1A or 1B phases.
"We just have been waiting our turn, trying to be responsible citizens," Linda Ford, who retired early during the pandemic, said. "I wanted to see my fellow nurses and doctors and care providers get vaccinated. I wanted to see the elderly get vaccinated before I jumped out there."
A project manager with Good Work Austin, which was organized by small businesses and restaurant owners during the pandemic, echoed the sentiment, saying it's "cruel at best" to open 1C now while hospitality workers cannot get a vaccine.
"At last week's announcement [to lift Texas's mask mandate and capacity restrictions], it would have been really easy to say, 'I'm doing this and we're also going to include hospitality workers in the next phase,'" Adam Orman, who also owns L'Oca d'Oro, said. "That would have softened the blow a bit."
Texas has about 3.77 million people aged 65 and up. Adding the 50-64 age range adds an estimated 5.01 million Texas to the eligibility list. However, about 1.22 million (or 24%) from that age group have already been vaccinated.
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