An Austin public health official working to get Texas lawmakers access to the COVID-19 vaccine — regardless of whether they are currently eligible — made a request to a local hospital to administer the shots to members gathering in the capital city for the 2021 legislative session, the official said late Friday.
In an attempt to defuse what he considers to be a public health risk to the city, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director for Austin Public Health, told The Texas Tribune that he asked Ascension Seton hospital system “if they would be willing to vaccinate lawmakers and key staff if they had availability.”
He said he believes five to 10 legislators in both parties have taken advantage of the arrangement in recent weeks. He did not say when he made the request, how Ascension Seton responded or how lawmakers were notified.
The effort by Escott to vaccinate lawmakers was first reported in The Dallas Morning News. He told the newspaper that he made the request to the hospital to allow lawmakers access after he was unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the state to include them in the first round of Texans deemed eligible.
“I also told the State and Seton that I felt it was appropriate to include legislators in the current prioritization due to the risk to the community of this gathering and the importance of continuity of government as it pertains to the legislative session,” Escott said in an email. “I’ve been very clear about my recommendation to have legislators vaccinated.”
Ascension Seton Austin officials did not immediately return requests for comment but told The Dallas Morning News that they agreed to allow lawmakers to sign up for the shot at Escott’s request. They said they were not reserving or holding back doses for them that would otherwise go to members of the public who are currently eligible, according to the Morning News.
The news comes as providers are scrambling for enough vaccines to meet the demands of at least 8 million Texans who qualify for the shot. So far, the state has been allocated just over 2 million doses and administered more than half of them, according to state and federal numbers.
It was unclear how many of the lawmakers who got the shots also were eligible under the state’s current priority groups, who include Texans over age 65, residents of nursing homes, health care workers and people with additional illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.