HOUSTON (CN) — Starting next Monday, all Texans and Oklahomans 16 and older will be eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccinations, the states announced Tuesday.
The moves come after President Joe Biden asked states to open up the vaccines for all adults by May 1. Mississippi and Alaska have already done it, while Tennessee and Missouri will do so April 5 and April 9, respectively.
“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, an associate commissioner of the Texas State Department of Health Services and chair of the state's Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.
Despite the removal of restrictions, the department said it has directed vaccine providers to prioritize shots for people age 80 and older by moving them to the front of the line, regardless of if they have an appointment.
In conjunction with the eligibility expansion, the agency said it will launch a website next week for people to register for shots through some public health agencies. For those without internet access, it will also set up a hotline for people to call and get help finding a shot provider.
The announcement relieves pressure from Texas state officials who were facing growing calls from advocates for grocery store workers, transit bus drivers and other essential workers to allow them to receive the vaccine, which is currently only available to people 50 and older, those with underlying health problems, frontline health care workers and first responders, and school and day care employees.
Around 3,440 Texans are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, down from a high of 14,218 on Jan. 11.
So far fears Governor Greg Abbott's March 10 order lifting a mandate masks be worn in public and allowing businesses to return to 100% capacity would trigger a spike in Covid cases have not materialized.
New confirmed cases were down to 1,516 Monday from a peak of 27,000 in late December.
Under the new guidelines, the estimated 13 million Texans who have not received any Covid shots will be eligible for the vaccine.
More than 6 million Texans have received at least one dose and over 3 million are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the State Department of Health Services.
Texas ranks 38 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the number of Covid shots it has administered (9.73 million) versus how many it has received from the federal government (12.61 million), according to a report released Tuesday by Becker's Hospital Review, compiled with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So when will children 16 and younger be eligible for the shots?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has projected maybe not until early 2022. But the producers of the three vaccines available in the U.S., Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have either started clinical trials of their vaccines for young children or will soon do so.
The Pfizer vaccine is approved for children as young as 16, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are for those 18 and older.
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