Texas House Democrats ask Gov. Greg Abbott to overhaul COVID-19 vaccine distribution process

Eager valley residents look amongst the rows of cars lined up at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes. Area residents lined up overnight to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Jan 5,2021.

Valley residents look amongst rows of cars lined up at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes. Area residents lined up overnight to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 5, 2021.

Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

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A group of 38 Texas House Democrats is criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott and the head of the Texas Department of State Health Services over the state’s vaccination distribution rollout, calling it “a source of growing confusion and frustration.”

The lawmakers from across the state, in a letter dated Jan. 6, requested that leaders make a number of changes to the process, such as ensuring that communities of color have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine and prioritizing those who have jobs that require them to work with people outside their household.

State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, wrote that her office is unable to answer questions about vaccines from constituents “because the State’s plan conflicts with what people are actually experiencing across the state.”

“The dearth of reliable public information leads to skepticism over the government’s ability to look out for the public health,” Goodwin wrote in the letter, which 37 other House Democrats signed. “This sort of suspicion is not what any of us want.”

The vaccination rollout in Texas has been confusing so far, with medical experts and others questioning how the state plans to handle administering the vaccine to roughly 30 million people in the coming months. State officials’ vague messaging on details about who is eligible to receive a vaccine — and where and how to schedule a vaccination — has been compounded by technical errors, logistical delays and, in some cases, supply shortages.

The number of vaccine doses available has fallen far short of covering those who are eligible to receive a vaccination, and state numbers showed earlier this week that under half of the vaccine doses shipped to Texans had been given out. A state panel has set those eligibility guidelines based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

Goodwin said a map of vaccination locations in her House district suggests that providers are less concentrated in areas with a higher percentage of people of color, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, data has shown. She asked Abbott and DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt to “take special care to distribute opportunities for vaccination widely and with an eye toward making them equally available to all Texans regardless of racial or ethnic background.”

Goodwin also asked the two to prioritize vaccinations for school teachers, grocery store employees, food service workers and others who have occupations that require them to interact with others outside their household. And she requested that state leaders better provide the Legislature “frequent and regular updates on the vaccination distribution plan and its implementation” for lawmakers to better relay information to constituents.

A spokesperson for Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The vaccines cannot be rolled out quickly and effectively unless Texans have confidence in the information they receive from DSHS, the governor, and their representatives,” Goodwin wrote. “Please help us work with you to ensure that Texans are vaccinated efficiently and safely.”



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