How much could the current pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine hinder Texas’ efforts to reach herd immunity? And is the state anywhere near reaching herd immunity?
Imelda Garcia is the chair of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Panel, and associate commissioner of Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services for the Texas Department of State Health Services. She told Texas Standard that over 40% of eligible Texans have received at least one vaccine dose. About 25% are fully vaccinated.
“We continue to see large increases over the past several weeks in Texans getting vaccinated,” Garcia said.
Despite the temporary loss of access to the J&J vaccine, Garcia says Texas will continue to make available doses of the other vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has told the Texas Department of Health and Human Services that it will provide Pfizer or Moderna shots to replace the J&J shots scheduled to be given at FEMA-run sites.
“Now that the feds are going to replace that vaccine, we will have additional Pfizer that we can push out to other providers as well,” Garcia said.
The state asked providers to suspend use of the J&J vaccine soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a pause. Garcia says the state told providers to pause J&J vaccinations unless the “benefits outweigh the risks.”
Gov. Greg Abbott recently suggested that Texas could be close to reaching herd immunity. In the case of COVID-19, some experts say that herd immunity won’t be reached until at least 70% or more of the population is vaccinated. Garcia says herd immunity is a “very scientific and nuanced term.”
“We know that Texas has a very large population, and we’ve only opened up eligibility in pieces of the population,” Garcia said. “And so, absolutely, we have 70% of our seniors vaccinated. We’ve done really good with our middle-aged folks. But right now, we need to really focus on getting our younger population administered.”
According to a recent Becker’s Hospital Review analysis, Texas ranked 32nd in the country for its percentage of its population vaccinated against COVID-19.