First-round doses of the COVID-19 vaccinations have been distributed all over the state, while local and state authorities continue to navigate their way through different phases of the pandemic.
Regarding local doses, County Judge Hal Richards pointed attention to the the manufacturing level, explaining the number of vaccinations produced is only about half of what the federal government originally said. “We’re starting off behind the gate,” Richards said.
As numbers across the state continue to rise, anxiety and questions from citizens naturally do as well. Upon initial release of the vaccination, many were lining up. “Lots of people want to get vaccinated and they want to know what the plan is,” said Richards.
The problem is, much of the say is outside of local elected officials' control. “We don’t know what the plan is,” explained Richards.
The allocation of vaccinations is determined at the state level. When doses arrive in Texas, the COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) has been established to “make recommendations on vaccine allocations including identifying groups that should be vaccinated first to provide the most protection to vulnerable populations and critical state resources,” according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas has began distributing COVID-19 vaccines, limited in supply, to protect health care, front-line workers, and vulnerable populations first. Additionally, the EVAP is considering mitigating health inequities, data-driven allocations, geographic diversity, and transparency.
Larger counties in the state are not comparable to smaller ones such as Kaufman County. The difference is larger counties have their own health departments. Once the county health departments receive vaccinations, they distribute them as seen fit. In some cases, county departments are giving the vaccine to individuals directly. Smaller counties, like Kaufman do not have the same distribution authority.
“No one is telling us what providers are getting the vaccine,” explained Richards. “We know who the providersare in the county, but we don’t know when they are gettingthem or how many. This is creating a lot of concern in the public.” Many county residents are assuming local authorities, like the County Judge’s office, have more information than they do in reality. “We haven’t been included in any of the decision-making process involving where the vaccines go,” said Richards.
In short, the County Judge’s office is informed on what hashappened with vaccination distribution, but does not have many answers on what is to come. “There is a lot of unknown and a lot of anxiety (among county residents),” said Richards.
The DSHS has laid out a Phase 1A plan, hoping to ensurethe safety of health care workers by providing limited vaccines to this group. However, this is only a recommendation. Under current operation, recipients of the vaccine are decided via the provider. Furthermore, waiting lists are managed by providers as well.
According to the DSHS website, 1,921 people have been vaccinated in Kaufman County with at least one dose, while 102 people have been fully vaccinated as of Jan. 7. Trauma Service Area E, including Kaufman County, remains above the 15% COVID-19 hospitalization threshold, meaning that hospitals in this area are stretchedthin trying to treat patients.
To date, Kaufman County has adopted the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott. This approach has largely been to limit confusion for the population. “There’s no sense in making a plan and then having that plan superseded by the governor,” stated Richards.
Judge Richards expressed some of his own thoughts on the vaccine and his decision to wait to get his inoculation. “Personally, I feel like I need to wait my turn. I couldn’t seemyself getting (the vaccination) before others who are more at risk.”
Speaking to moving forward amid the crisis, Richards stated, “We have to stay the course. I do think the vaccinations are going to make a difference. But, it will be a few months before we see an impact. We need to continue to follow the guidelines that have been in place. Stay home if you can, socially distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands." Judge Richards explained that he has been more careful recently in an attempt to protect both himself and others.
Judge Richards assured that Kaufman County has still accomplished many great things in the midst of the pandemic and a difficult year. “I wish everyone a happy new year!”