For two decades, public health officials in Texas have warned of the growing possibility of a global pandemic. More often than not, the Texas Legislature and our statewide elected officials have ignored these warnings. Lawmakers cut funding for local and state public health infrastructure across Texas. Politicians relented to anti-vaccine and anti-science activists.

Now, policymakers at the Texas legislature and in cities and counties across our state are scrambling to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Budget cuts and anti-science policies have left Texas unnecessarily vulnerable. During and after this emergency response, government can implement specific policies to reduce death, mitigate catastrophic economic collapse, and protect our hospitals’ capacity to care for and treat our neighbors.

The cand its Scientific Advisory Council, which includes front line doctors and some of the world’s leading researchers, has recommendations about how to respond to the current crisis and plan for the future.Texas can act now to lessen the immediate impact of the disease and prepare for the efficient distribution of future vaccines against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

First, Texas must protect the most vulnerable among us and protect the capacity of our hospitals to treat patients. Every year, the flu kills around 10,000 Texans, the majority of those deaths in seniors 65 years of age and older. Every Texan over the age of 50 should have access to the flu vaccine for free. The more Texans we vaccinate against the flu, the more hospital and medical capacity will be available to respond to unexpected infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics.

Second, as scientists are working towards a COVID-19 vaccine, Texas public health officials must have the tools to get ready to voluntarily immunize millions of its citizens. The logistics of vaccinating so many people in Texas will be complex and challenging. The immunization registry in Texas is not up to the task of administering statewide coronavirus vaccination. Public health officials and health care providers need reliable and timely immunization statistics to deploy resources. Since 2003, anti-vaccine activists have waged all-out war on the immunization registry.As a result, Texas has one of the weakest immunization registries in the country. We must modernize this system now to prepare for tomorrow’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Lastly, Texas must think big about the creation and production of vaccines to fight COVID-19 or other emerging infectious diseases.Texas has long been at the forefront of vaccine research. The United States Department of Health and Human Services funds vaccine research and development at Texas A&M University in College Station. Vaccine research takes place in Galveston and San Antonio. In the world’s largest medical center, The Texas Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine along with other institutions in Houston and across Texas are leading the way in the search for vaccines against emerging infectious diseases – but lack of funding hampers bringing these vaccines to market.

In 2007, Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to create and fund the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).In the years since, CPRIT grantees have been responsible for medical breakthroughs. Texas must attack coronavirus and future pandemics with the same money and laser focus it brought to the fight against cancer. Let’s create a voter-approved fund similar to CPRIT to infuse money into vaccine research and development here in Texas.

We encourage Texans demand that legislators support public health initiatives, vaccinations, and the wellness of every Texan. Texas must think big and act decisively in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic.This is both a public health crisis and a state security crisis. Researchers in Texas and across the country are working hard to create a vaccine for COVID-19. Texas must take the necessary steps to learn from our current situation and reinvest in our state’s public health. In the interim, Texas can choose to learn, prepare, save money, and protect lives.

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