Starting Monday, people age 50 and up will be able to get the vaccine as part of the state's 1C priority group. They will join the eligibility pool alongside those 65 and older and anyone 16 and up with an underlying health issue.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than 93% of Texas COVID-19 fatalities have been people over the age of 50. There are about five million Texans between the ages of 50 and 64 and more than one million of them are already vaccinated.
“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 state’s COVID-19 vaccination program began with phase 1A in December with health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Later that month, phase 1B began to vaccinate people 65 and older and others with medical conditions that put them at a greater hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Texas last week added school and child care workers to the eligible population following a directive from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
More than half of all Texas seniors have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, and 30% are fully vaccinated. The number of COVID-19 positive patients in Texas hospitals has fallen by two-thirds from its peak in mid-January.
Overall, more than 7 million doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered in Texas. About 4.7 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 2.5 million are fully vaccinated.
Mac McClendon, Harris County Public Health District’s director of Public Health Preparedness, said it creates a downstream effect.
“The quicker we can get the people vaccinated in our community the likelihood of them catching a severe disease, such as COVID-19, and being hospitalized is greatly reduced,” he said.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Phase 1C is a step in the right direction. She said it makes sense. However, Hidalgo said thousands of people who qualify under phases 1A and 1B are still waiting to receive their vaccine doses.
“We are prioritizing older ages over younger ages so once we get through the oldest cohorts them we move onto the youngest ones and we plan to continue doing that so it shouldn’t be an issue,” Hidalgo said.
Also, in Galveston County, Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser said 25% of the population has received at least one dose of the shot.
He said more than 30,000 residents will be able to get vaccinated under phase 1C.
“All in all, there are very, very good signs,” Keiser said. “We think we need somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the people vaccinated before we get herd immunity.”
While Texas is back open, Hidalgo urges folks not to let their guards down.
“At the same time, please continue wearing a mask, avoiding gatherings so that in the time that it takes us to get from where we are to the vast majority of the population getting vaccinated we don’t lose unnecessary lives,” she said.
In addition, she hopes other frontline workers, like grocery store employees, would have been included in phase 1C but she knows that will happen as more doses become available.