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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December.

Under the plan, health care workers are slated to get the vaccine first, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as people who work in emergency medical services and as home health care workers. Next in line are the second tier of health care workers that include staff in outpatient care offices, free-standing emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and community care pharmacies as well as public health workers who conduct COVID-19 tests, embalmers, medical examiners, and school nurses.

Other groups that will be prioritized include frontline workers and people who are at a greater risk of complications or death if they contract the virus, according to a press release. The panel is continuing to work on a plan for longer-term distribution, but the release laid out several factors that will be taken into account, including how to make sure those living in poverty, rural populations, and those without insurance are not overlooked.

Officials with the Texas Hospital Association, which represents 500 hospitals in the state, endorsed the plan and the prioritization of health care workers.

“Protecting health care workers is an important step to ensuring a healthy workforce able to treat those who become acutely ill,” the THA wrote in the statement. “With a solid plan, an imminent vaccine and better treatment protocols, we can start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The guiding principles behind the distribution plan were developed by the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, a panel formed as a part of the Department of State Health Services and includes infectious disease experts, state lawmakers, and public health officials. Panel members include Stephen Williams, the director of the Houston Health Department; David Lakey, chief medical officer at The University of Texas; and Gerald Parker, associate dean for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M.

Vaccines will be given out on a voluntary basis, Abbott said.

“These guiding principles established by the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel will ensure that the State of Texas swiftly distributes the COVID-19 vaccine to Texans who voluntarily choose to be immunized,” Abbott said in the statement. “This foundation for the allocation process will help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, protect the most vulnerable Texans, and safeguard crucial state resources.”

A COVID-19 vaccine has yet to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though several pharmaceutical companies are working through clinical trials with plans to seek approval. Once a vaccine is approved, Texas would receive regular allotments from the federal government.