AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Dental Association said it’s not clear when the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for the majority of dental health care personnel. 

“The TDA is actively working with state decision-makers to permit dentists and dental health care professionals to receive the vaccine,” said Dr. Matt Roberts, chair of TDA’s Council on Legislative, Regulatory, and Government Affairs. “The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) have not specifically defined when the vaccine will be available.”

The TDA recently posted an update and message online from President Dr. Jacqueline Plemons outlining advocacy efforts to get dental workers vaccinated. 

“We’ve received your calls and messages, and we want you to know we’re listening. You wake up every day and go to bat for your patients. You work hard to give them care in a time when nothing feels certain. We know you may feel anxious and frustrated about when you can be vaccinated. As TDA goes to bat for you, we want you to know we are doing everything we can to get you the COVID vaccine—and the peace of mind you deserve,” said the TDA post.  

Dr. Robin Bethell, who practices in Austin, said he won’t mandate staff vaccinations, but he will share information about his decision to get the vaccine once available (Courtesy Collin Findlay)

The dental staff at Forest Family Dentistry is anxiously waiting to learn more. 

“I certainly think we want it. All the dentists are really excited to be vaccinated and get this fear at least subsided a little bit of coronavirus,” said Dr. Robin Bethell with the practice. 

Dr. Bethell explained that he understands why dentists have not been included in the vaccination distribution yet. He said their enhanced safety measures are among the strictest to limit exposure to the virus. 

Safety measures working

“I think that the data shows that dental offices are safe. We showed that data to the Governor and the state legislation and they used that data to decide that dental health professionals could come to work,” said Dr. Bethell. “And since they used that data to show we’re safe, we’re no longer the top priority to get vaccinated.”

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), less than 1% of dentists nationwide have had COVID-19. 

The study which was published in October said that safety policies including wearing masks, goggles and face shields along with disinfectant practices are working. 

Janessa Bock is a dental hygienist in Houston. She said safety measures including temperature checks, wearing gowns, masks, glasses and face shield have protected her from coronavirus. (Courtesy: Janessa Bock) 

“You know it’s been on our minds when are we going to be included because we deal with aerosols on an hourly basis,” said Janessa Bock, President-elect of the Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association.

She said that her association is also hearing from members asking why they’re not next to the get the vaccine. 

“Texas has such a huge number of frontline professionals that are treating these cases day to day, and so the Dental Board actually has the most strict mandates for dental professionals regarding our PPE,” explained Bock. “And so, with that we feel that it’s protected the dental staff as well as our patients in order to still provide care at the highest level.”

“We understand that it’s hard and we’re right there with you, but when we come together and we work together we will get through this and it will be brighter on the other side,” she said.

Bock is hopeful that she’ll be vaccinated by February if not sooner.

Dentists a priority in other states 

In more than half the states, dentists are included in the first wave of vaccinations, according to the ADA. 

The state-by-state updates on vaccine allocation and administration lists a number of other states in the next phase, but not Texas. 

“Vaccine access and the infection control measures already in place will ensure that dental care can continue being delivered safely to patients. As an integral part of Texas overall health care infrastructure, dentists and their teams provide direct patient care that is key to the state’s overall COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Roberts. 

TDA said there have been reports that some dental workers have been able to access the vaccine, but it appears to be isolated to those with hospital affiliations and in some part of Texas based on local interpretations of the guidelines. 

Dr. Roberts explained that those regions vaccinating dental health care personnel have independently made the determination that they meet the phase 1A criteria for receiving the vaccination.

The state health department said that if those in the dental field are over 65 or if they have a high-risk, pre-existing condition, they can get vaccinated during the current phase of distribution.