TEXAS VIEW: Texas should be more aggressive in offering COVID-19 booster shots

THE POINT: More than 61% of eligible Texans are “fully vaccinated,” so why are so few getting the booster?

The omicron variant keeps surging at an eye-popping rate, but the number of Texans getting a booster shot hasn’t surged with it.

We can do better, and our state and county governments need to take some specific steps to help us.

In Texas, 61% of eligible Texans have received the initial two- or one-dose vaccines, but only about a fifth of Texans age 16 and older are boosted. Last week, federal officials approved boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds, so the pool of Texans who are eligible for a booster just grew.

There is a significant gulf between the number of Texans who were willing to get the first set of doses and those who’ve been boosted. As people in this state waiver or delay the date to get the booster, the seemingly milder but highly contagious omicron variant will continue to upend our lives. It’s already shutting down some schools, exacerbating staffing shortages and filling COVID-19 wards.

We urge public health authorities to be more aggressive in rolling out boosters. Early research shows that while the initial set of shots is still effective at protecting people from hospitalization with omicron, their effectiveness at preventing infection is only about 30%. A study found boosters can raise protection from omicron infection up to 75%.

Texas needs an approach closer to what we saw last spring, when officials began taking the shots from megahubs to pop-up events closer to families.

Anyone can get an initial dose or a booster at local pharmacies, which require appointments. That’s reasonable, but appointments are sometimes not immediately available, and that can be a barrier to caregivers and others with little schedule flexibility.

Some of us are too distracted to think about making an appointment to get a booster. Out of sight, out of mind.

Last year, pop-up events at schools, rec centers and other community sites allowed people to walk up, join a line and get a shot after a relatively short wait. Some events were scheduled on a Saturday to make it that much more convenient. Messages and materials urging people to vaccinate were ubiquitous.

Dallas County officials said they are continuing this approach, scheduling recent events at schools, churches and grocery stores. A county health department spokesman told us about 600 people showed up for a vaccine event on Dec. 29 at a Walmart in west Oak Cliff. County staff are block-walking ahead of the events to promote the vaccine. The shots are also available at county clinics, the Dallas College Eastfield campus and Fair Park on certain days of the week.

We need more pop-ups, and we hope other counties are taking note. The more we advertise boosters to fellow Texans and the easier we make it to get one, the faster we can tamp down this surge.

The Dallas Morning News