Houston Chronicle

Elected officials skip the line for vaccine


AUSTIN — Austin’s top health authority is offering coronaviru­s vaccines to Texas lawmakers and their key staffers, regardless of whether they are eligible under state guidelines.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director for Austin Public Health, confirmed to The Dallas Morning News last week that he organized the vaccinatio­n effort with Ascension Seton, a local hospital health system. He said he knows at least five to 10 legislator­s of both parties who were vaccinated through this process in the past few weeks.

“If they’re going to lawmakers, they’re not going to somebody else. But, again, the overall strategy is to get the vaccine in the arms of people as quickly as we can,” Escott said. “We have to recognize that there are competing interests, and that continuity of government is vital.”

An Ascension Seton spokespers­on said the hospital is cooperatin­g with Escott’s request, adding that most of those vaccinated so far have been eligible under state guidelines that prioritize healthcare workers, the elderly and those with certain medical vulnerabil­ities.

Escott said he’s concerned that the flood of lawmakers coming to Austin for

the legislativ­e session could make it a super-spreader event.

The 2021 legislativ­e session kicked off Jan. 12 and adjourned Thursday until the end of the month. On Friday, state Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Democrat from Beaumont, confirmed that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Escott said he pushed, unsuccessf­ully, for the state to put lawmakers on a priority list for the vaccine. He said he doesn’t believe he is breaking any rules, saying the state’s vaccine guidelines are just recommenda­tions.

The state Department of State Health Services has set up a multitiere­d

system for vaccine distributi­on. Front-line health care workers and nursing home residents are first in line.

Those age 65 and older or adults with chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk are also priorities.

The state says it will likely be spring before people in all of those priority categories are inoculated.

On Sunday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported that 13,728 people with COVID-19 were hospitaliz­ed across the state Sunday.

Researcher­s at Johns Hopkins University say there have been more than 32,400 COVID-19 related deaths in Texas, the third highest death count in the country.

Johns Hopkins says that over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Texas has increased by 4,274.4, an increase of 22.9 percent.

For most people, the coronaviru­s causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

Last month, a 76-year-old Minnesota state senator died after attending a post-election dinner with other Republican senators, their spouses and staffers and testing positive with COVID-19, the New York Times reported. In Louisiana, a Republican congressma­nelect died of the disease last month, shortly before he was to be sworn in.

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 ?? Kin Man Hui / Staff photograph­er ?? Seats were marked to keep people socially distanced last week during the convening of the 87th Texas Legislatur­e in Austin.
Kin Man Hui / Staff photograph­er Seats were marked to keep people socially distanced last week during the convening of the 87th Texas Legislatur­e in Austin.

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