The state of Texas will not require eligible public school students to get a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to class for the 2021-22 academic year.
Texas Department of State Health Services Associate Commissioner Imelda Garcia shared that information during a COVID-19 news briefing Thursday, May 13. She said the department typically follows the state Legislature’s lead on deciding what vaccines to require, and there are no plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory this fall for students.
On Monday, May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include ages 12 to 15 years old. Previously, it was approved for use on ages 16 and older.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices followed suit on Wednesday, May 12, and endorsed vaccines for that age group.
“This is another big step to get to the end of the pandemic,” Garcia said about vaccinating younger Texans.
She added it’s also an extremely important measure in returning schools to normal this coming academic year.
The associate commissioner said that, based on Census data, another 1.6 million to 1.7 million Texans are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The expansion of vaccinations to include 12- to 15-year-olds only applies to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, not Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which only have emergency use authorization for ages 18 and older.
The CDC also modified its policy regarding co-administering vaccines. Previously, the CDC advised waiting at least two weeks between administering the COVID-19 vaccine and other adolescent or school-required vaccines. The CDC now says those vaccines can be given at the same time.
Garcia said that, since the pandemic began, many children have fallen behind on their regular vaccines. Allowing vaccines to be administered all at once will make it more convenient for families.
Since the FDA and CDC announcements, Garcia said pediatricians, healthcare providers, and pharmacies have increased their requests for the Pfizer vaccine in anticipation of the higher demand. The state has adjusted its COVID-19 vaccine allocation to allow for smaller shipments.
“We have the capacity to ship smaller doses to providers,” Garcia said.
The state had been shipping the Pfizer vaccine in allotments of 1,170 doses or multiples of that number. Now, the state can break down shipments into smaller amounts.
The DSHS is no longer dictating the amount or type of vaccines allotted to providers. Garcia said enough vaccines are available so providers can order what they want.
While the number of people getting vaccinated seems to have slowed, Garcia said she’s not so sure it’s due to people being hesitant to get the shot as much as it is convenience. With more vaccines going to providers across the state, she hopes vaccinations will pick up as people see how easy and convenient it has become.