AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new graphic released by Austin Public Health Department helps clarify who is eligible right now to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through APH. The department shared a new flowchart at a joint meeting of Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council on Tuesday, explaining its process for determining whether people are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine right now. The department shared a corrected, updated version of that flowchart on Wednesday.
Those who are eligible to get vaccines right now through Austin Public Health are people who fall into the state’s 1A and 1B criteria. Austin Public Health’s updated flowchart indicates this includes:
- Health care workers
- People who live or work in a long-term care facility
- Designated essential caregivers
- Those over the age of 65
- Those over the age of 18 with a chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for COVID-19.
Austin Public Health clarified for KXAN on Wednesday that while technically anyone over the age of 18 who falls into the 1B category is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine right now, APH is particularly focused right now on vaccinating people who are both 1B eligible and over the age of 50.
If you are more than 65 years old, you are immediately eligible for the vaccine. But as health leaders have reiterated, even if you fall into that age bracket, actually getting the vaccine depends on how many doses are available from the state. There are currently not enough doses for everyone immediately eligible.
The reason no one younger than 18 is administered the vaccine at Austin Public Health is that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (which is the vaccine Austin Public Health has been receiving) can only be administered to those 18 and up. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can be administered to those 16 years of age and older.
While the vaccine eligibility flowchart the department released on Tuesday said those “in a community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19” are eligible for the vaccine under the 1B criteria, the updated flowchart the department released Wednesday did not contain that phrase and only referenced those who have medical conditions.
A spokesperson for Austin Public Health explained to KXAN Wednesday that race and ethnicity are not qualifiers for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. The spokesperson explained that while the department understands that certain groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, APH cannot prioritize people based on their race and ethnicity. Still, the department is working to distribute the vaccine equitably to the different racial and ethnic groups across the city, the spokesperson said.
Black and Hispanic residents, for example, make up a disproportionate rate of the people who are hospitalized for and die of COVID-19 in the Austin area.
If you are between the ages of 18-64 and you have one of the underlying medical conditions listed by DSHS for the 1B category, you are also immediately eligible, regardless of your insurance status. For example, if you have cancer and are within that age range, you would qualify.
If you are between the ages of 50-64 but not in one of those impacted communities, Austin Public Health will add you to its waitlist because vaccine supply is limited.
If you are in any other group that is not defined above, you will be put on the APH waitlist. At this time, people who fall into the Texas Department of State Health Services 1A and 1B groups are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, though Austin Public Health notes there is currently not enough supply of the vaccine in the Austin area to meet the demand for everyone in those categories right now. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination through Austin Public Health, look here.
APH said as of Tuesday morning, 532,339 people have registered on its waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine. Those individuals could be in any tier and could be from any zip code in Texas (as DSHS requires) but APH said most of those people on that list are in the Austin-Travis County metro area.
Out of those 532,339 people signed up on the APH portal, the department said there are 188,825 of them eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday morning — meaning people over the age of 65 OR people over the age of 18 who have a medical condition that meets the DSHS the Phase 1B criteria.
Some people in that group of 188,825 individuals who fall into the highest-risk categories for COVID-19 will get emails from APH when appointments are about to become available. APH made it clear at Tuesday’s meeting it doesn’t have the resources to contact all 188,825 people each time vaccines become available.
APH has a system based on who is potentially eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine where people are awarded points according to their risk factors. The APH emails notifying people of COVID-19 vaccine appointments being released will go to the people who have the most points in this APH system. The department does this in hopes of having more outreach to people who appear to be in a position where they would be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and more likely to be hospitalized.
APH said these emails are sent out two hours prior to the vaccine registration becoming available on their portal.
Recently, APH has been getting 12,000 vaccines each week from the state, so at that rate, it would take around sixteen weeks just to give first doses of the vaccine to that group of people of 188,825 people. The department added that achieving that sixteen-week timeframe will also depend on DSHS continuing to give them 12,000 doses per week.
The department has given out some second doses of the vaccine to individuals who got the COVID-19 vaccine through APH before the state switched to the “hub” model of vaccine distribution. APH told KXAN it expects to receive 12,000 doses from DSHS next week to vaccinate all the people whose 28-day minimum waiting period after the first dose is over next week.
Austin Public Health says because of the current COVID-19 hospitalization rates, the Austin Metro area will remain in Stage 5 of its risk-based guidelines, which include:
- No gatherings with anyone outside of your household
- Dining and shopping should be limited to essential trips
- Avoid non-essential travel
- Businesses are recommended to operate through contactless options (i.e. curbside, delivery)
Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott believes Austin will stay in Stage 5 until approximately Feb. 18. That’s when models suggest the 7-day average of new hospital admissions will drop below 60 new admissions a day.