TEXAS – Thousands of healthcare workers working with the most vulnerable populations in Texas say they were forgotten when the state introduced the COVID-19 vaccine. Attempts are now being made to prioritize them for vaccination and include them in the state vaccine distribution plan.

“I am an independent contractor. I’ve set up patients for EEG tests, which are electroencephalograms where we monitor brain waves, ”said Rachel Gunter, who moved to Manor last year to be closer to family.

“I’m mobile, so my workplace is my car.”

Gunter also spends a lot of time in her patients’ homes.

“A lot of my patients are immune safe, which is one of the reasons this job is so great because we can keep them out of the hospitals,” said Gunter. “But I have to be very careful with that because I don’t want to get sick and then pass it on to her.”

To date, more than 3.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Texas, with nearly a million people fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of Health.

Texas has moved into Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which includes people aged 65 and over and those aged 16 and over with underlying conditions. Gunter falls into Phase 1A as a frontline clerk, but finding a vaccine wasn’t as easy as she’d imagined.

(Matt Mershon / Spectrum News)

New to the area, Gunter didn’t have a family doctor to call. To make matters worse, the company she works for is in a different state and couldn’t help, and Austin Public Health had her on a waiting list for weeks. When HEB announced they had received the vaccine, Gunter focused their efforts there.

“I basically went through it four or five times a day and just brushed it up to see if vaccines were available,” recalls Gunter.

After nearly a month of refreshment, Gunter found an appointment in Victoria, almost three hours away. Gunter said the pharmacists who administered her shot said they weren’t surprised she drove this far to get vaccinated.

“They actually said they had some people from Austin,” said Gunter.

Gunter isn’t alone, according to Rachel Hammon, executive director of the Texas Association of Home Health and Hospice.

“Home care workers have been identified as frontline workers in the vaccination schedule, but no procedure has been put in place to get them vaccinated,” noted Hammon.

There are more than 300,000 nurses, therapists, and personal care assistants employed by licensed Texas Home and Community Support Services agencies who work with patients from the comfort of their homes. This number does not include those who are self-employed.

Hammon said home health authorities are largely on their own, with the exception of agencies linked to large hospital systems. It is for this reason that Hammon recently wrote to Governor Greg Abbott urging the state to develop a method for vaccinating domestic health and hospice workers.

In the same letter, Hammon called on the governor to issue an executive order and prioritize legislation to change existing state law that discourages home care workers from administering certain vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We ask that willing vendors who have the appropriate license are given the opportunity to administer the vaccine,” said Hammon. “You can become part of the distribution solution for this vaccine.”