Federal public health officials push vaccination efforts at Texas meeting

Tags: Choucair, vaccine, COVID-19

By Jonathan Nelson

As COVID-19 cases continued to climb to crisis levels across the state, state and public health officials gathered for a roundtable discussion in Austin on August 5. The takeaway message from all parties: We must get as many people vaccinated as possible to get the pandemic under control.

The Biden administration vaccinations coordinator, Bechara Choucair, MD, led the federal delegation as they met with DSHS representatives including commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, and physician leaders from multiple physician associations including TAFP.

“We are so grateful for everyone who rolled up their sleeves and got so many shots in so many arms,” Choucair said. “But the fact remains, we still have tens of millions of people who remain vulnerable and unvaccinated…. The reality is we still have a lot of work to do. This pandemic is not over.”

He said the federal government is working to increase access to vaccines, support strained health systems, and make sure vaccines are distributed equitably, according to reporting from the Texas Medical Association. “He also assured physicians that federal public health officials are continually tracking and studying the need for COVID-19 boosters, case severity among children, and breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, as well as working on full Food and Drug Administration approval of existing COVID-19 vaccines,” the TMA story said.

Three TAFP leaders attended the roundtable discussion: immediate past president Javier “Jake” Margo Jr., MD; president-elect Mary Nguyen, MD; and treasurer Emily Briggs, MD, MPH.

“While I believe it's important for the public to know that the administration is invested in not only our recovery but also our ongoing risk mitigation, I think it’s more important for our frontline workers — our health care professionals, our teachers, our first responders — to know that we haven’t been forgotten,” Margo said about the event. “This is a marathon and long after the clapping and the genuine gestures of goodwill, we are still out there facing this, beaten, bruised, and in some cases broken, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.”

Dr. Nguyen said she appreciated the emphasis placed on the importance of primary care doctors as influencers in their patients’ decisions. “People trust their primary care doctors more than anyone else, and it takes a lot of time that we don’t always have to convince them to take the COVID vaccine,” she said. “Don't quit though. Patients may say no to the vaccine at first but keep talking to them, because they do listen. What we say and think matters to our patients.”

Just days after the roundtable, TAFP issued a statement urging the masking and vaccination of students in Texas schools.

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