AUSTIN (KXAN) — Childcare providers in Texas, often underpaid and uninsured, are anxiously waiting to find out if the state will consider them a priority once a coronavirus vaccine is ready for distribution.

The Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel is meeting this week to recommend a definition for “frontline workers,” according to a spokesperson from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Childcare providers hope to be included in the same vaccination tier as teachers as the state develops its plan.

“Without the early childhood portion, some of our frontline workers, like the healthcare workers, couldn’t go to work,” said Michael Gonzalez, the board president of the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children. “We are that service that needs to be here right now but in order to do that (a vaccine) should be available for us.”

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state’s guiding principles for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, prioritizing health care workers, vulnerable populations, and frontline workers who are “providing critical services and preserving the economy.”

Childcare providers, like schools, provide a critical service for the state’s economy to function during the pandemic, especially for health care workers.

Underpaid and uninsured

Bright Beginnings Childcare in northeast Austin has seen its volume drop by 40% since the start of the pandemic but remains open serving a subsidized client base.

Patsy Harnage, owner of Bright Beginnings Childcare in northeast Austin, hopes childcare providers in Texas will receive coronavirus vaccines at the same time as teachers

“I think that we should be one of the risk groups to be vaccinated as well, so we can be here for the babies and the parents,” Bright Beginnings owner Patsy Harnage said, wearing a face shield and medical gown. “God forbid, we can’t afford to get COVID. We have no health insurance.”

A University of California study in 2018 found that 56% of childcare workers in Texas receive at least one form of public income assistance. Many childcare workers in the state are uninsured.

In Dallas, an employee at Braswell Child Development Center is recovering from a stroke, which facility director Murriel Webb said was caused by the stress and anxiety of working during the pandemic.

“We’re on the frontline, as well,” Webb told KXAN. “We have no idea, we have no control of where our families are when they leave our presence, nor with what they’re coming back to us with the following day.”

On Wednesday, Abbott announced Texas is expected to receive its first allotment of more than 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in less than two weeks.

The vaccines should start arriving in the state the week of Dec. 14. More allotments may be made later on this month, Abbott’s office said, and increased allotments are expected in January.

KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report tonight at 6 p.m.