Texas finds itself with a public health system riddled with dangerous gaps and vulnerabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic is a tough lesson on what happens when our state does not have effective policies for the efficient delivery and administration of life-saving vaccines.

The Immunization Partnership (TIP) joins all Texans in urging the members of the 87th Texas Legislature to take the lead in restoring our state from the ravages of the pandemic by protecting our citizens and our economy from further public health and economic catastrophe.

For this legislative session, we offer a thoughtful and practical four-part solution to help Texas recover from the pandemic, close the unnecessary gaps for all vaccine-preventable diseases, and end this pandemic. We believe the state must (1) build a more functional immunization registry to give us accurate data; (2) reduce vaccine-preventable disease spread in congregant-living facilities such as nursing homes; (3) increase vaccine access and equity for all Texans; and (4) support vaccine research and development in Texas.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the long-overdue need for a more functional and efficient immunization registry. By improving functionality of ImmTrac2, our existing registry, we can capture accurate immunization data, ensure equitable and wide distribution of life-saving vaccines, and reduce administrative burden to allow providers to focus on vaccinating Texans against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

As a society, we have a responsibility to reduce the rapid spread of vaccine-preventable diseases among the highly vulnerable individuals in congregant living facilities, such as nursing homes and correctional facilities. Texas can save lives and save millions in taxpayer dollars if these facilities offered vaccines to their residents and staff.These residents also deserve the opportunity to join the Texas immunization registry, ImmTrac2, so they can better keep track of their health records and know their protection status.

The death rate from COVID-19 among the Black and Hispanic population is 2.8 times the rate of the Non-Hispanic White population. We should collect data concerning vaccine distribution and vaccination rates for all ages, gender, race, ethnicities, and other key demographic to better inform public health officials where to strengthen outreach and educational efforts and to take appropriate action.

Texas should invest in vaccine research and development right here at home so we are at the forefront of this critical field. We should create a state endowment to support Texas-based universities, corporations, nonprofits, and collaboratives to conduct vaccine research and development. This vital seed funding, which will attract large federal and private research grants, is an investment in the future of Texans, our health, and economy.

Our legislators have difficult decisions to make when balancing limited resources with critical needs. We believe they have no greater responsibility than ensuring the health and safety of all Texans.

Now is the time to act. We don’t have a second chance to respond to the pandemic. We need our elected leaders to step up to protect the public’s health and get Texas back to work and school. We encourage all Texans to join us in contacting our legislators to ask them to adopt our proposals and to provide the leadership and political courage we need to put us on the road to recovery. Vaccines make Texas work.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Allison N. Winnike, J.D., president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. The Immunization Partnership is a statewide non-profit organization that aims to create a community free from vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating for evidence-based public policy, and supporting immunization best practices.  The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author.

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