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COVID-19

When Will Teachers, Restaurant Employees And Other Workers At Risk Of Exposure Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Teacher.jpg
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Kindergarten teacher Ginger Bolen teaches a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning at Boone Elementary School in South Austin.

QUESTIONS: When will teachers be eligible to receive the vaccine? Getting little to no information from my school. — Tamara

If you are a restaurant worker, will you be eligible for the next group to get vaccinated? I’m 62, no underlying conditions so just wondered when possible for the vaccine. — Julian

I am an essential government worker that continues to report to work daily. How soon and where can I get vaccinated? I am 56 years old, African American. — Brenda

ANSWER: The simple answer is we don’t really know yet.

So far, the state is telling vaccine providers to focus on two groups:

  • Phase 1A: health care workers (including school nurses) and long-term care facility residents
  • Phase 1B: people 65 and older and people 16 and older with chronic medical conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

If you’re a teacher or frontline worker who falls into one of those groups, you should be able to find a provider to give you the vaccine. (More on that here.) But if you’re hoping to qualify simply based on your job as an educator, restaurant worker, grocery store cashier, etc., that’s not an option right now.

The next phases after 1A and 1B haven’t been outlined yet.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, the agency making these decisions and overseeing vaccine distribution, says the best estimate for when the vaccine will be available for “the general public who are not considered Phase 1B” is this spring. The timeline also depends on production and how quickly the U.S. authorizes more vaccines. Right now, two are authorized for use in the U.S. – one from Pfizer-BioNTech and another from Moderna. Both require two doses.

How is the state deciding who gets priority? DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt created the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, or EVAP, which makes recommendations to the state on who should get the vaccine first. EVAP is now deciding what criteria should be used for the next distribution phase, according to DSHS.

Before the vaccines were approved, EVAP decided on some guiding principles for allocating the vaccine. They include protecting health care workers, frontline workers and vulnerable populations.

During a virtual town hall on vaccines led by Austin-area health officials, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County provided some insight into the challenges that come with the prioritization process. Dr. Mark Escott said it’s important to get the vaccine out to high-risk individuals (the 1B group) to help keep them out of already-overwhelmed health care systems.

“The challenge that we have with prioritization is, who do you choose?” he said. “Is it mobility-related folks, so bus drivers? Is it teachers? Is it police officers? Is it construction workers, grocery store workers, wait staff? It’s very difficult because there’s a lot of differences within those groups as far as the risk is concerned, so what the state strategy has done is identified across the board, across the community, those who are at the highest risk so we can get to them first.”

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