Texas' top health official said Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccine providers who have received doses must give them out as quickly as possible to qualified patients and not hold any in reserve, as the state deals with record-breaking numbers of virus patients in hospitals and new cases.
"All providers that have received COVID-19 vaccine must immediately vaccinate healthcare workers, Texans over the age of 65, and people with medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19," said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Department of State Health Services.
"No vaccine should be kept in reserve," he said, shortly before Texas reported 11,775 hospitalized COVID patients, setting a record high for the second day in a row. The state also reported a record high 26,990 newly-confirmed cases.
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State health officials report Texas has received nearly 612,000 vaccine doses and 163,700 have received the first of two shots.
"Vaccine supply remains limited but more vaccine will be delivered to providers each week. It will take time to vaccinate everyone in those priority groups," said DSHS spokesman Douglas Loveday.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office didn't immediately respond to questions about vaccine distribution, but the governor tweeted that the state wants to see all doses given as quickly as possible.
"A significant portion of vaccines distributed across Texas might be sitting on hospital shelves as opposed to being given to vulnerable Texans. The state urges vaccine providers to quickly provide all shots. We get plenty more each week. Always voluntary," Abbott tweeted.
Earlier Tuesday, President-Elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines and predicted that "things will get worse before they get better" when it comes to the pandemic.
Trump administration officials said earlier this month it planned to have 20 million doses of the vaccine distributed by the end of the year. But according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, just over 11.4 million doses have been distributed and only 2.1 million people have received their first dose.
At the current pace, Biden said "it's gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people," said Biden, who takes office Jan. 20. He set a goal of administering 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office,
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office did not immediately respond to to an request for comment on vaccine distribution in Texas.
The record-breaking numbers on hospitalized Texas patients passed previous high mark set in late July during a summer surge, prompting officials to warn residents to take precautions over the New Year holiday. Texas has reported more than 26,000 deaths.
In sports, virus concerns prompted the Southern Methodist University women's basketball team to cancel the rest of its season, and forced the cancellation of the New Year's Eve Texas Bowl between TCU and Arkansas in Houston.
SMU officials said the players chose to stop their season. While the players agreed all possible steps have been taken to keep them healthy, they decided "that the totality of the circumstances was resulting in an in-season experience that they did not wish to prolong."
Athletic director Rick Hart said it was a difficult decision for the players to make, and that the school supported them.
Other SMU programs will continue to compete as scheduled. The women's basketball team was 0-6 overall after losing its first two American Athletic Conference games.
The bowl game was cancelled because of an increased in positive tests within the TCU program, the school said.
Texas has reported more than 1.5 million confirmed cases. The actual number is believed to be far higher because many people haven't been tested and some who get sick don't show symptoms.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.