Texans age 65 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer and Moderna are producing the two COVID-19 vaccines currently being distributed in Texas. The Moderna vaccine is the one Wharton County and most rural Texans are receiving because of its less stringent shipping and storage requirements.

Specifically, the Moderna vaccine can be stored at –4 degrees Fahrenheit (average for a refrigerator freezer) while the Pfizer vaccine must be shipped in dry ice and stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Who gets vaccinated first?

State officials control the distribution plan as to when and where vaccines will be sent.

Distribution decisions are not made by the county nor are they made in coordination with county or city officials (at least not in rural counties).

The Texas Commissioner of Health appointed an Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) of subject matter experts to make recommendations on vaccine allocation decisions and to identify groups that should be vaccinated first. 

That state’s first priority group (1A) consists of health care workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The EVAP seeks to provide the most protection to vulnerable populations and critical state resources.

The second priority grouping (1B) includes individuals 65 and older and people 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, heart conditions or obesity. 

At present, Phase 1A and 1B members are vaccine eligible. State officials say it could take weeks for providers to acquire enough vaccines to inoculate the nearly 4 million Texans over 65 years.

To date, only 2 million vaccines have been administered statewide.

Where are vaccines being offered in Wharton County?

Texas is currently distributing vaccines to hospitals, pharmacies, local health departments, freestanding emergency rooms, vaccine hubs and other clinics across the state.

More than 7,000 providers have registered with the state to administer COVID-19 vaccines. As more vaccines become available, more providers will start to receive them. 

As this time, over 1,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine have reached the arms of Wharton County residents. Very limited supplies of vaccines have been distributed to El Campo Memorial Hospital, El Campo H-E-B, El Campo Walgreens, Wharton MEHOP, Wharton H-E-B, and the Wharton CVS Pharmacy.

My office has learned that several physicians’ offices throughout the county have registered to become providers when the vaccine becomes available.

How do I sign up to receive the vaccine?

State officials recommend you first contact your personal physician to 1) discuss the safety, effectiveness, benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine and 2) see if your physician’s office is currently administering the vaccine. 

Many of the Phase 1A members are receiving vaccines directly through their workplace or long-term care facility.

Thus, the state recommends that health care workers contact their employer and long-term care residents contact their facility before registering with a vaccine hub or provider.

Phase 1B members can try going to regional H-E-B and Walgreens Internet websites to register and be placed on waiting lists.

Depending on the provider, you may be contacted via phone, email or text when vaccines become available or if a previously scheduled patient cannot make their vaccination appointment.

As a safety reminder, please do not give out personal information over the phone. When you are contacted by an agent from the call center for vaccine registration, you will only be asked the following questions: 

  First and last name

• Date of birth

• Best call back number

• Email address

• Qualifying questions for tiers 1A and 1B 

Can I get vaccinated in another county? YES.

Eligible Texans can register in other cities or counties to get their vaccine.

Wharton County residents can drive to any distribution hub in the Lone Star State provided vaccines are available.

First, before getting in your car, check the Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Availability Map (see link below), and call or look on that neighboring provider’s website to confirm they have enough vaccine supply.

How much does the vaccine cost? 

To date, the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself, but depending on the provider, there may be an administrative charge or co-pay. It is my understanding that Medicare & Medicaid Services are not charging fees or co-pays.

Is a second shot required? YES.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses. After receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, recipients should get a card from their provider stating when and where to return for their second dose.

Should I still wear a mask after getting vaccinated? YES.

Experts say it could take your body several weeks after the second dose to build up sufficient immunity.

Additionally, scientists contend more research is needed to ascertain the lifespan of immunity and whether vaccinated persons can still transmit the virus to others.

The following link provides added information about the COVID-19 vaccine including a list of providers that are receiving allocations of vaccines each week: Visit https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/immunize/vaccine.aspx to find out more.

– Phillip Spenrath is the county judge for Wharton County.

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