Starting Monday, all Texans ages 16 and older will be eligible to sign up to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
That’s obviously good news, but the state still has work to do when it comes to administering dosages allocated by the federal government.
Texas currently ranks 45th in that nation for per capita vaccine dosages administered, according to CDC data. Every other large population state is performing better than Texas, including California (29), Florida (33), and New York (26).
Almost 10.5 million Texans have received doses, but only about 3.7 million have been fully vaccinated — or about 13 percent of the state’s total population.
With 12 million doses shipped to the state so far, supply continues to outpace demand and/or distribution in the state. Why is Texas lagging behind other states?
The February snowstorm takes partial blame; the week of the snowstorm, Texas saw half a million fewer vaccines than the week prior. But the delays caused by the snowstorm don’t explain everything, especially since Texas was ranked 40th in vaccine distribution prior to the freeze.
Another issue is many residents in the state, largely Republicans, refusing to get the vaccine. A February Texas Tribune poll found 59 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Democrats are reluctant to or are refusing the vaccine. Gov. Greg Abbott somewhat acknowledged the problem last Thursday at a press conference in McAllen. “We’re beginning to see a decrease in demand for vaccinations,” he said. “We’re having about half — or even less than half — of the people who signed up for a vaccine actually show up to get a vaccine.”
For the most part, other states have simply done better. States that had a successful early vaccine rollout began planning earlier, relied heavily on the National Guard, and ran vaccine distribution in a centralized fashion, according to a report by Pew Research.
Most of those success stories hail from states with low populations, like Alaska and West Virginia, but even larger states have taken a more proactive and creative approach to Texas.
Florida, for example, launched a statewide preregistration system in late January, allowing residents to “get in line” and check their vaccine status. Texas launched its statewide Public Health Vaccine Scheduler only last week.
Earlier this month, California launched a $40 million multi-language media campaign to fight vaccine hesitancy that even goes as far as enlisting the help of TikTok and Instagram influencers. That’s on top of a separate $30 million outreach program that is funding a network of community-based organizations and nonprofits.
By comparison, a similar media campaign effort in Texas that began last month has a price tag of just $2.3 million.
California also recently rolled out a volunteer program that allows residents to become eligible for a vaccine by volunteering at vaccination sites — something that ought to be replicated in Texas as vaccination sites can expect more demand in the coming days.
As Texas expands vaccine eligibility to all residents of age, another concern is that expansion backfiring. That was the case with several states that moved ahead too quickly, according to data analyzed by the Associated Press and health data nonprofit Surgo Ventures.
“… states such as South Carolina and Florida that raced ahead of others to offer the vaccine to ever-larger groups of people have vaccinated smaller shares of their population than those that moved more slowly and methodically, such as Hawaii and Connecticut,” read the report. “The explanation, as experts see it, is that the rapid expansion of eligibility caused a surge in demand too big for some states to handle and led to serious disarray. Vaccine supplies proved insufficient or unpredictable, websites crashed and phone lines became jammed, spreading confusion, frustration and resignation among many people.”
Photo: Lisa Ferdinando / Wikimedia Commons