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Despite a pause on the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Texas state health officials are pleased overall with COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“Vaccinations have continued at a fast pace,” said Imelda Garcia, Texas Department of State Health Services associate commissioner and chair of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. She made the assessment during an April 15 news update on the vaccine rollout. 

As of that date, Texas providers had administered 15.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine with 9.7 million people getting at least one dose and 6.1 million fully vaccinated. This works out to about 43 percent of eligible Texans ages 16 years and older having had at least one dose and about a quarter of eligible residents fully vaccinated.

According to DSHS numbers, approximately 23.6 percent of Burnet County residents ages 16 and older are fully vaccinated and 51 percent of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated. In Llano County, 25 percent of those ages 16 and older are fully vaccinated and 40 percent of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

Garcia pointed out that while providers receiving vaccine allocations through the DSHS or federal partnership programs report vaccination numbers to state officials, vaccinations through federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration are not reported to the state. Those administrators do, however, report vaccination numbers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A big change the past week was the pause issued by the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the administration of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine. The two agencies issued a joint statement April 13 asking providers to temporarily stop administering the vaccine after reports of six women who developed a rare blood clot following vaccination. The women were all between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms appeared six to 13 days following vaccination.

“From where we are at this point, it appears to be an extremely rare event,” Garcia said of the blood clots. “This shows that the vaccine safety system is working, (as) these rare events were reported and recognized as a possible issue that needed to be evaluated so people could have confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Chief State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Shuford said a CDC vaccine panel met April 14 to begin reviewing the six cases. She pointed out that blood clots have not been linked to the other two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States: Pfizer and Moderna, which both require two doses. Shuford said the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version is viral vector vaccine, while the other two are mRNA vaccines. 

Even with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold, Garcia said the state is still receiving 1.9 million doses combined of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines the week of April 19. This includes first and second doses. Across the state, Garcia said more and more providers are receiving vaccines, including pharmacies and physician offices. 

“There are more options for you,” she added.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have dropped across Texas, Shuford said, but some spots have only leveled off or even slightly increased. Shuford said health officials are paying close attention to those places to see if upticks in hospitalizations and deaths result. 

Another concern for state health officials are virus variants, which are increasing in prevalence. Shuford pointed out these variants can be more transmissible and lead to more COVID-19 cases. The key right now, she said, is for people to get vaccinated. 

The DSHS offers an interactive map to locate vaccine providers across the Highland Lakes and Texas. In Llano County, Corner Drug Health Mart, 600 Bessemer Ave. in Llano, is holding a vaccine clinic Wednesday-Friday, April 21-23. Registration is available through the Llano County COVID-19 website

Other providers include Baylor Scott & White Health, Walgreens, CVS, H-E-B, and Walmart. Visit their individual websites for information on vaccine availability and registration. 

Organizations such as the all-volunteer Austin Vaccine Angels are helping people schedule vaccinations in the Austin area. 

For more on vaccinations and other COVID-19 news, visit the DailyTrib.com Coronavirus Resources webpage.

daniel@thepicayune.com