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Texas teachers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, health officials announced Wednesday.
Effective immediately, all Texas vaccine providers must include all school personnel, Head Start program personnel, and child care personnel in their immunization management programs, according to a notice that the Texas Department of Health Services State of Texas sent providers.
The notice comes after the Biden administration on Tuesday urged all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school personnel. Texas had not previously prioritized teachers. Texas received a letter from the US Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday night asking it to expand eligibility, according to a DSHS news release.
Eligible are “those who work in pre-primary, elementary and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including in-center and family care providers, “according to federal directive.
State health officials said earlier this week they expected to finish vaccinating older and more vulnerable Texans in the coming weeks and expand eligibility to include more Texans by the end of the month.
That new group was expected to include teachers before Wednesday’s announcement, but officials have not said who else would be in that new “1C” group.
The top priority groups 1A and 1B, which health officials say include more than 8 million people, included frontline healthcare workers, people 65 and older, and people of any age with medical vulnerabilities.
Early inclusion of teachers comes as vaccine supplies increase and 2 million people, or 6.8% of the Texas population, have been fully vaccinated with both doses of the two-shot regimens.
The recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, began to be administered in Texas this week, authorities said.
As of March 1, 5.7 million doses have been administered, and providers across the state administered an average of 123,469 vaccine doses per day over the past week. Neither vaccine is approved for children under the age of 16, who make up about 23% of the population.
The supply of the vaccine is still far below both demand and the number of people eligible to receive it.
The decision also comes the day after Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would allow all businesses to reopen and rescinded a long-standing mask mandate. Many school officials, unprepared for Abbott’s decision, chose to continue demanding masks on their campuses and are awaiting further state instructions.
Educators and advocates have been calling on the state to include teachers as it launches its immunization program this winter and spring. After Abbott’s announcement Tuesday, several groups of educators chided him for removing the mask requirement without prioritizing teachers for vaccinations.
“Abbott has avoided its responsibility to follow medical advice and clarify what must happen to keep our schools safe. All senior health officials have emphasized that even with vaccines we must continue to use the simplest tools to stop the spread, “Zeph Capo, president of the American Federation of Texas Teachers, said in a statement Tuesday.
In response to Biden’s proclamation, CVS Pharmacy had already made appointments available to educators, school personnel, and child care workers in Texas and other states where it offers vaccines.
CVS is part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, a collaboration between the federal government, states, and pharmacies across the country.
Karen Brooks Harper contributed to this report.