AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he’ll authorize the deployment of more than 1,100 National Guardsman as part of a statewide initiative to vaccinate homebound seniors against COVID-19.
Abbot spoke at a fire station in Corpus Christi to detail the initiative, dubbed “Save Our Seniors.” The National Guard will assist communities to get local seniors the proper COVID-19 shots. Abbott said some of the members will help identify and register seniors who need to be vaccinated, and others will go to homes and administer them.
He said the initiative is modeled after what the City of Corpus Christi, with the help of local Meals on Wheels chapter and the city’s fire department.
“By implementing a similar model throughout the state, and with the support of the Texas National Guard, we will reach more homebound seniors in communities across Texas and provide them with these life-saving vaccines,” Abbott said.
The state will dedicate 8,000 vaccines to the initiative for the first week, and it will launch Monday, Abbott said.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly 4.7 million doses of the COVID-19 have been given in the state, and almost 1.5 million are fully vaccinated.
A one-shot vaccine from Johnson and Johnson “appeared safe and effective” in trials, U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff said, and an independent panel of experts is expected to meet Friday to issue its opinion if it should be granted emergency use approval.
The final decision is expected to come “within days” after the panel weighs in.
Abbott says once that vaccine is approved, it’s going to expedite the process of not only getting seniors in Texas vaccinated, but everyone in Texas.
“I think the most efficient use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would be to homebound seniors,” he said. “They could also be used at supersites and hub locations.”
Moving vaccinations forward from Phase 1A and 1B isn’t that far away, Abbott said. He said that Texas is getting more and more vaccine doses from the federal government, and with the Johnson and Johnson shot on the precipice of approval, it could be early spring when Phase 1C gets the green light.
“This week we’re getting the largest amount of vaccines ever, which is well over a million,” Abbott said. “I would anticipate we open up vaccine distribution very soon, and that means sometime in March.”
Getting folks vaccinated in rural counties has been one of Abbott’s priorities as well, and he said National Guard members have been going to about five rural counties at a time “for several weeks now.”
“I want the people in those counties to know that we know about their concerns, and we know about their need,” he said.
Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said vaccine allocation is done by U.S. Census data, which puts Texas at about 21.5 million people aged 18 and older from 2019 data. The current population of Texas is estimated at around 29 million, and Kidd said each county is getting vaccine doses allocated by their percentage of people aged 18 or older.
“We’re trying to stay within a half a percent difference in the population and vaccine allocation, so that’s how we’re trying to be as fair and equitable as possible,” Kidd said.
Abbott said he’ll be in Houston with President Joe Biden on Friday, and they will talk more about getting additional vaccine doses to people in Texas.