Texans over the age of 50 who did not qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine in the state's phases 1A and 1B became eligible Monday.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are about 5 million Texans between the ages of 50 and 64, and the state estimates about 1 million have already been vaccinated.
People in that age range are considered high-risk for either becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.
"More than 93 % of the Texas fatalities directly caused by the coronavirus have been in people 50 and older, with those ages 50 to 64 accounting for 20% of all fatalities. By including this next most vulnerable group, Texas will continue to reduce the number of people who are hospitalized and die from the disease across all races, ethnicities and occupations," Texas DSHS said in a statement.
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Dallas Fair Park Vaccination Site
Dallas County Health and Human Services said since the news of the expanding the age group for vaccinations, it's seen around 200,000 more people register for a vaccine. That brings a total of 900,000 people currently on the waiting list.
“I knew that it was going to be sooner rather than later but I didn’t realize it was today," said Kyle Fridel, 50. "I got the message last Friday and I was like, 'OK,' and stopped everything and signed up for it."
Fridel received his first dose of the vaccine Monday.
A spokesperson for the county said people over 50 years old could start to sign up over the weekend. Currently, the Fair Park site is averaging about 1,100 shots per hour.
“The one challenge we have faced has been the allotment of the vaccine. We need more vaccines," Dallas County Health and Human Services spokesperson Christian Grisales said. "If we have more vaccines we’d be able to administer a lot more than what we’ve been able to do."
The county has pushed the state to not hold back vaccines, but last Friday the state of Texas announced it would receive 200,000 fewer doses this week compared to last -- around 800,000 compared with more than 1 million.
Compared to several weeks ago, people who received their shot on Monday complimented the county for the smooth process.
“We have decided to reopen two gates. Gate 2 is for the first dose and Gate 8 is for the second dose. That definitely helped improve traffic flow outside of Fair Park," Grisales said. "You know, last week we had a waiting time of less than 10 minutes in and out, that says a lot."
He said they're encouraging people only to come at their scheduled time and not sooner.
"We have a lot of people come in before their due date, we encourage people not to do that, that creates a lot of traffic and also it might take vaccine away from people who are supposed to get their shot on their due date," Grisales said.
There continues to be a push to get people from 17 zip codes deemed vulnerable vaccinated.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has focused on the following zip codes: 75042, 75061, 75150, 75210, 75211, 75212, 75215, 75216, 75217, 75220, 75224, 75227, 75228, 75231, 75241 and 75243.
Dallas County said in coordination with Dallas Parks and Recreation, they are visiting different recreation centers in those zip codes to provide transportation to Fair Park.
"So it’s the same-day appointments, same-day vaccinations and we provide a ride on busses," Jheison Roman, policy advisor and scheduler for Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "So it’s essentially, for all those families who may live nearby rec centers, and it’s easier for them to come hop on a bus, get vaccinated and come back."
He said on Monday they estimated they would take 125 people from two different rec centers.
They plan on doing the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday at different recreation centers.
“Anybody that is 50 and up and lives in one of these 17 zip codes can go ahead and call one of the rec centers and signup and we’ll have up to 100 seats available per rec center," Roman said.
He said historically people living in the 17 zip codes have had difficult access to health care.
"We just want to provide an opportunity for people to have that transportation, to kind of eliminate that barrier for them to go ahead and get vaccinated," he said.
Groups that will be in Phase 2 and Phase 3 are currently under consideration by state health officials. As more vaccines become available, officials expect to be able to substantially increase distribution. President Biden has said the vaccine should be available to all Americans by May 1.
Once vaccinated, people 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. Even when fully vaccinated, it's still possible to become infected by the virus since the vaccine does not offer 100% protection.