HOUSTON – As Texas joined several other states on Monday in opening up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to millions of healthy adults, the anticipation of the shot could be seen in the long line winding past Booker High School T. Washington in Houston.
“It’s a good sign,” said Nelson Garcia, 48, who waited more than two hours with his two young children before finally being within reach of protection against a disease that could be fatal to them. people with diabetes like him. “It seems like everyone wants to get the vaccine. I want my children to see that this is a good thing and that the vaccine can finally help us get back to normal. “
On Monday, Texas became the largest state to extend immunization eligibility to anyone 16 years of age or older – roughly 22 million people. Long lines were replicated statewide and appointments were difficult to secure online. Vaccination points on HEB.com, the website for Texas’ most popular supermarket chain, were scarce.
The peak was expected. “Almost anyone can get the vaccine now,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who represents the Houston area.
Five other states, including neighboring Oklahoma and Louisiana, as well as Kansas, Ohio and North Dakota, also opened their doors to all adults on Monday. Several have reported increased interest in the vaccine, but the numbers have not overwhelmed the vaccine supplier system.
Also on Monday, officials in New York state, once the center of the pandemic that has killed an estimated 31,000 people in New York City alone, announced that as of Tuesday, all adults 30 and older would be eligible for the vaccine. At least 37 other states have pledged to offer vaccines to all adults who want one by mid-April.
Six states – Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire and South Carolina – plan to expand eligibility this week, officials from those states said.
On Monday, many in Texas celebrated the milestone, which came with the state struggling to stay ahead of the pandemic; there has been an average of 3,774 new cases a day over the past week, according to a New York Times database.
“Covid is still there. Covid is not going anywhere, ”said Dr Joseph Varon, head of intensive care at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, while visiting the high school site. “Everyone needs to be vaccinated. There is no excuse not to get the vaccine. “
Imelda Garcia, a senior health services official at the State Department of Texas, called Monday “a really big day for us here in Texas.” About one in six Texans have fully received the vaccinations needed to ward off a severe coronavirus infection, Garcia said. Still, the number of Texans who received at least one dose – about 25 percent – is lower than the 29 percent nationwide.
Ms Garcia said the state plans to administer the vaccines “as quickly as possible” and that she expected to see long queues at vaccination sites for days to come. The state is expected to receive more than a million first doses this week, she said.
Health officials have found themselves in a race to vaccinate as many Texans as possible as more contagious variants of the virus continue to spread. At least 500 cases of these variants have been identified, state officials said.
“We need to keep people vaccinated very, very quickly,” Garcia said. “So that the variations don’t get out of hand.”
Although there were no reports of websites collapsing or people being turned away on Monday, there were clear signs that demand for the vaccines was high. The lines were longer than those days at bigger sites like NRG Park in Houston. Vehicles meandered around the cavernous parking lot as people anticipated their turn for a drive-thru vaccine.
As young people formed part of the crowd at vaccination sites, state officials warned that vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, remain a priority. This was evident at Booker T. Washington High School in a historically black area of Houston.
Ms Jackson Lee was watching the crowd when she spotted a man holding a cane and struggling to stand at the back of the line. She put an arm around him and gently helped him reach the front.
People in line cheered and cheered as the man, John Custer, 58, passed them. “I would have waited, I don’t know how long,” he says.
Others like Eddie Taylor, 58, and his wife, Helen Taylor, 60, said they liked the fact that many vaccination sites like high school did not require pre-registration. The Taylors arrived at the end of the line at 8 a.m. in hopes of gaining a seat before the site closed for the day at 4 p.m.
“You just introduced yourself and hope to get there before they close or run out,” said Mr. Taylor, senior pastor of True Faith and Praise Missionary Baptist Church.
In the Rio Grande Valley, where a combination of poverty, lack of access to health care and a united culture accelerated the spread of the virus during the summer, vaccination sites were somewhat quieter . A majority of residents of Hidalgo County, home to McAllen, had received a vaccine by the end of March, officials said. More than half of its residents qualified because they tend to have pre-existing chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, said Dr Ivan Melendez, the county health authority.
Nearly 300,000 people in the region had received their first dose of the vaccine on Monday, and about 22,000 people are expected to do so in the coming weeks. “I am encouraged,” said Dr Melendez. “Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely. But we have come a long way.
Monday’s calls for nominations in Louisiana began three weeks ago, after Governor John Bel Edwards announced the expansion of the state’s eligibility beyond those with underlying health conditions. But Ruston Henry, a New Orleans pharmacist, noted that his clientele was only slightly younger. “We see old to middle-aged people,” he said. “We don’t see a lot of people between the ages of 16 and 20.”
As of Thursday, about 15% of Louisianans, or nearly 721,000, had been fully immunized, while more than 1.1 million had received at least one dose, officials said.
In Ohio, demand for vaccines has been palpable, with appointments filling up quickly and some people putting their names on more than one waiting list. In Franklin County, appointments for the entire week were filled within two hours of being made available. Tan Thai, who works at the Old Village Pharmacy in Columbus, said appointments for his last batch of vaccine were made within 10 minutes.
“People are so desperate right now,” Ms. Thai said. “They are looking everywhere.”
Dr Varon, who has witnessed firsthand the devastation wrought by the pandemic in the Houston area, said large-scale vaccination efforts had not come soon enough. More than 48,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Texas, and he fears an outbreak after spring break and Easter.
“We are expecting a fourth wave,” he said. “It’s going to happen. Things will not go well over the next few weeks. “
He warned people not to let their guard down until the majority of the population is fully vaccinated and herd immunity is achieved, a figure that would ensure medical systems are not overwhelmed with patients. “We’re not even close,” he said of vaccination rates.
In particular, he urged communities of color – some of whom have expressed apprehension about signing up for a vaccine against the virus – to listen to their doctors and public officials and to visit the nearest site. “I’m telling you, please, that vaccines are safe,” Dr Varon said. “Get vaccinated. This is your only chance to survive this pandemic.”
The report was written by A. Colleen DeGuzman of McAllen, Texas, Marina Trahan Martinez from Dallas, Katy reckdahl from New Orleans, and Lucia Walinchus of Columbus, Ohio.