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Southeast Texas counties expand COVID-19 vaccination efforts

As more coronavirus vaccines arrive in Southeast Texas, some county leaders are expanding who gets the vaccine.

JASPER, Texas — As more COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Southeast Texas, some county leaders are expanding who is able to get the vaccine. 

Texas Department of State Health Services officials said the coronavirus vaccines are only for those in Phase 1A and Phase 1B, but some county leaders are looking beyond priority groups. 

Officials in local jurisdictions are able to make adjustments to the state's prioritization plan, which is why a number of people outside of Phase 1A and 1B have received COVID-19 vaccines sooner than expected. 

"I don't want to leave anything on the shelf," Jasper County Judge Mark Allen said. 

As shipments of the coronavirus vaccine come in to Jasper County, people have been coming from both Southeast Texas and much further away to receive the vaccines. 

"East Texas, North Texas, Central Texas, along the I-45 corridor," Allen siad. "We've had some people fly in from New York, we've had some people come in from New Mexico, a lot of people from Louisiana."

While most of those people fell into the Phase 1A and 1B categories, Allen said he recently started allowing other groups deemed essential to receive vaccines. 

"I do feel like that is a necessity, especially, your public works people as well," he said. "Those folks are out there whenever we need them. If somebody is a caregiver [or] provider, bringing an elderly family to the unit to Jasper County to vaccinate, if they want to receive it, we go ahead and take care of them."

With nearly 500 appointments open on Saturday and concerns about the coronavirus vaccines going bad, Hardin County allowed anyone wanting a shot to receive one this weekend.  

"By the time we get to next Friday, we should have given all of the doses from what we had left over from last week, plus what we were allocated for this coming week," Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel said. "By Friday, we should be caught up, we're still running a little behind from the winter storm."

Texas DSHS officials said they discourage counties offering COVID-19 vaccines to people outside of the Phase 1A and 1B groups, saying they "may need to reach out more actively or work with organizations in their communities to ensure as many of the highest-risk individuals in their areas have been vaccinated."

Allen said he agrees with following the prioritization orders first. 

"The goal is the more people that get vaccinated, the better," he said. "The wall is that gets the infection, and the quicker we can stop it."

Each state has its own vaccination policy. In Texas, people being vaccinated are not required to be residents of the state to receive a shot. 

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