Texas is becoming the largest state to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults, more than a month before President Joe Biden's goal of making the shots available to anyone who wants one by May 1.
The announcement by state health officials Tuesday adds Texas to the rapidly growing list of states that are making the vaccine available to all adults. The drastic expansion for the state's nearly 30 million residents will begin Monday.
"We are closing in on 10 million doses administered in Texas, and we want to keep up the momentum as the vaccine supply increases," said Imelda Garcia, chairwoman of the state's COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.
Officials in both Dallas and Tarrant counties said though they have the capacity to vaccinate more people, there hasn't been enough supply.
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Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county's waiting list for appointments is nearly 1 million people long.
He said he was optimistic about plans for the state's vaccine supply to increase by about 50% next week.
"That's a big jump. And as we get more and more vaccine, there's going to more and more opportunities to get your shot," Jenkins said.
He encouraged those who are young and healthy to sign up everywhere they're willing to drive, pointing out that different counties will handle this next rollout in their own ways.
On Tuesday, Jenkins also lowered the Dallas County's COVID-19 threat level.
State guidelines call for vaccination sites to prioritize people who are 80 and older, which Denton, Dallas and Tarrant counties will do.
Dallas will also continue to prioritize those who are most at risk, with its FEMA-partnered site prioritizing people based on census data.
Tarrant County said it still has more than 40,000 on its waiting list who qualify as groups 1A, 1B and 1C, and they'll remain first in line.
Want to Get on a Vaccine Waitlist?
County health departments have launched waitlists for adults 16 years old and over.
You can register to recieve the vaccination in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Links are below:
You do not need to be a resident of the county to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in that county -- registration is open to anyone in Texas. For those without internet access, Tarrant County is also taking registrations by phone at 817-248-6299. In Dallas County, call the DCHHS vaccine hotline at 1-855-IMMUNE9 (1-855-466-8639). In Denton County, call 940-349-2585.
For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group in Texas, see this page from the Texas DSHS.
A spokesperson for Collin County didn't offer specifics on whether anyone would be prioritized. They said to their knowledge, there won't be changed to its first come, first served appointment system that rolled out a week and a half ago.
For the past two weeks, Texas has been the nation's largest state with no coronavirus restrictions after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott repealed a mask mandate that has divided businesses and lifted limits on restaurant and retail occupancy. Hospitalizations in Texas have plummeted to their lowest levels since October, but local health officials say they are again watching the numbers closely after spring break last week.
Alaska was the first state to open up vaccine eligibility to all adults, and others are now rushing to do the same, including Tennessee and Missouri.
Texas has one of the nation's slowest vaccination rates. Roughly 10% of the state's population had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, and about 22% had received at least one dose, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
State officials have blamed the numbers on February's blackouts from a deadly winter storm and claimed that federal officials have used outdated Census data to determine Texas' shipment of doses.
Biden earlier this month used his first prime-time address to pledge that all adults in the U.S. would be eligible for the vaccine starting May 1.
In Texas, the COVID-19 vaccines are currently available to anyone over the age of 5. The vaccines are still not approved for children younger than 5 however -- those trials are ongoing.
Once vaccinated, people who received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot, but full protection may not happen until a couple of weeks after the second shot. For those who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- there is only one shot needed.
As of Jan. 3, 2022, it is also recommended those who are age 12 and up and who have been fully vaccinated receive a booster as early as five months after their last dose, for a total of three shots. The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only U.S. option for children of any age.
As for even younger children, kid-size doses for 5- to 11-year-olds rolled out in November and experts said healthy youngsters should be protected after their second dose for a while. But the FDA also said on Jan. 3, 2022, that if children that young have severely weakened immune systems, they will be allowed a third dose 28 days after their second. That’s the same third-dose timing already recommended for immune-compromised teens and adults.
Pfizer and Moderna are studying their vaccines, in even smaller doses, for children younger than 5.
Even when fully vaccinated, it's still possible to become infected by the virus since none of the vaccines offer 100% protection from infection. With that in mind, even if you've been vaccinated it's still a good idea to wear a mask and keep some separation between strangers or those whose vaccination status is unclear.
To help this process run smoothly, Dallas County is asking for volunteers. It takes 250 each day to keep the Fair Park site moving. To learn more, click here.