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Texas ranks 47th among U.S. states in vaccine distribution, so why isn't the state getting its fair share?
When Operation Warp Speed officials announced back in November that they would allocate COVID-19 vaccines to states based on their adult population, it seemed to bode well for Texas, the second most populous state in the country. More than two months into the rollout, however, Texas finds itself almost dead last in terms of the number of vaccine doses it has received from the federal government on a per capita basis.
As of Monday, the state of Texas had received 4,402,275 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This evens out to 15,182 doses per 100,000 people, leaving Texas in 47th place nationally. This marks a slight improvement from a few weeks ago when Texas ranked 48th in the country.
On average, states have received 17,839 doses per capita, according to the CDC data. If Texas had received vaccine doses at this rate, the state would have an additional 647,325 doses to administer—enough to provide initial shots to an additional 14% of the residents in the top two priority groups, according to Ariadne Lab's Vaccine Allocation Planner.
"We're very much aware of it," Texas Department of State Health Services Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen told Austonia. The agency has been in touch with federal officials, who said state allocations are based on adult population numbers. "It's something we're still looking into," he added. "We want to make sure that Texas is getting the numbers that it should be."
A closer look
Alaska leads the pack, with 33,969 doses delivered per capita, CDC data shows. This is largely thanks to additional allocations made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. As a result, the state has received enough doses to vaccinate more than twice as many people on a per capita basis as Texas.
Other factors contribute to discrepancies between states, including unpredictable weekly shipments and last-minute adjustments to their allocations, as reported by ProPublica. Texas officials are not the only ones who have taken notice: Nevada's COVID-19 response director recently met with CDC and FEMA officials to discuss the state's allocation, and Utah's health department director suggested his state was being shortchanged because it is the youngest state in the nation.
This chart shows per capita vaccine allocations for 20 states: the 10 that have received the most (Alaska through Rhode Island) and the 10 that received the fewest (Wisconsin through South Carolina).
Former Houston mayoral candidate and blogger Bill King wrote that Texas was getting shortchanged as part of the federal vaccine rollout on his blog last month. "I kind of became a little obsessed with (COVID data)" he told Austonia. When he realized Texas ranked so low in terms of per capita vaccine allocation, he reached out to some of Texas' congressional representatives. "The only person I got to pay attention to it was (U.S. Rep. Dan) Crenshaw's office," he said.
Even if the federal government changes its distribution strategy to rightsize Texas' share, it wouldn't necessarily account for this deficit. "It's not an inconsequential number," King said.
Underserved but overperforming
Although Texas has received fewer doses of the COVID-19 vaccines on per capita than most other states, it is administering those doses fairly quickly. As of Monday, Texas had administered 75% of its allocated doses—more than 30 other states and the national average, according to the CDC data.
Recent changes to the state's rollout plan have addressed some concerns. After Texas House Democrats urged Gov. Greg Abbott to address constituents' "growing confusion and frustration" around how to access vaccines last month, he announced a shift to large-scale hub providers.
With this change, Austin Public Health was designated a hub provider and debuted a pre-registration waitlist. It remains deeply oversubscribed, with more than half a million people signed up, but is open to anyone who is eligible under the state's priority guidelines. Before the creation of such hubs, some smaller providers were only offering appointments to existing patients or did not have a waitlist at all, leaving eligible residents feeling shut out.
These improvements, however, do not address the scarcity of vaccine doses allocated to the state overall. "It's just never going to be enough right now," National Association of County and City Health Officials CEO Lori Tremmel Freeman told Austonia.
Under the Biden administration, the vaccine distribution process remains largely the same. But there have been some "subtle" shifts, Freeman said, including a 5% increase in the weekly allocation to states thanks to increased production by Pfizer and Moderna, direct shipments to pharmacies and improved communication with state and local health departments.
The president has also promised to give states firmed up weekly allocation numbers three weeks in advance to allow for better on-the-ground planning. APH and other local providers typically learn of their weekly allocations a couple days in advance, a department spokesperson told Austonia.
"The longer view we can have as to vaccine supply, the better the distribution and administration of vaccines will be," Freeman said.
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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