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(H-E-B)

Vaccine priority groups are expanding once again, the state health department announced Wednesday. Texans 50 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 15.


More than 93% of Texas COVID deaths have been among people 50 and older, with those ages 50 to 64 accounting for 20% of all COVID deaths, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"We've seen a remarkable decrease in the number of hospitalizations and deaths since people 65 and older started becoming fully vaccinated in January," DSHS Associate Commissioner and Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel Chair Imelda Garcia said in a statement. "Expanding to ages 50 to 64 will continue the state's priorities of protecting those at the greatest risk of severe outcomes and preserving the state's healthcare system."

More than half of Texas seniors have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 30% are now fully vaccinated, according to DSHS.

The COVID vaccine rollout began in mid-December. Texas first opened up eligibility to health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Later that month, the state expanded access to group 1B, which includes people 65 and older as well as those with a medical condition. In response to a federal directive, the state opened up eligibility to educators and child care personnel last week.

In Travis County, these priority groups account for more than half of the estimated population 16 and older, according to DSHS data.

Although the vaccine supply has increased in the last couple of weeks, largely due to the recent FDA approval of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, demand remains high, and many eligible residents are still finding it difficult to make an appointment and encountering tech glitches. Expanding access could exacerbate these issues.

"We're still working out the process ... to ensure that we have parallel strategies in order to get more folks vaccinated in different risk areas," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a Friday press conference.

State officials were expected to announce expanded eligibility criteria this week; however, Escott and others speculated it would include essential workers.

New confirmed COVID cases and related hospitalizations have dropped sharply since January, after a peak health officials have attributed to holiday gatherings and travel. In Travis County, the seven-day moving average number of daily new confirmed cases has dropped 84% since Jan. 17, when it was 701.7, to 109.6 on Tuesday. The average number of daily COVID-related hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has also fallen nearly 70%, from 93.7 on Jan. 9 to 28.4 on Tuesday, according to Austin Public Health data.

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