As a new surge of holiday-gathering-related COVID-19 cases grips the Rio Grande Valley, the demand for the vaccine greatly surpasses supply.
Esmeraldo Guajardo, administrator for Cameron County Public Health, said Jan. 7 that vaccinations are rolling out slowly and that the doses her department receives go fast.
“We’ve had 3,500 doses allocated to us and we used up 2,500 as we got them,” she said. “We’re burning through them for the health providers. We have 1,000 we just got yesterday (Thursday) and this is what we’re going to use for the vaccination clinic.”
That clinic, held at Casa del Sol, saw people lining up overnight to get vaccinated with the first dose of the two-dose vaccine. Public Health announced via Facebook on Friday that it had received an additional 1,000 doses and would vaccinate a total of 2,000 people at the clinic by day’s end.
Guajardo said the FedEx driver carrying the extra doses took it upon himself to bring them to Casa del Sol because he knew a vaccination clinic was going on and the Public Health main office was closed.
“I said, ‘I like your initiative,’ “ Guajardo said.
The city of Harlingen responded nimbly and extended the clinic hours, she said. How many doses communities around the state receive each week is decided on the state level according to guidelines from the federal government.
“I did put in a request to the state to increase our numbers for next week so we can have more clinics, but I don’t know,” Guajardo said.
City of Brownsville and Cameron County emergency management officials observed the Harlingen clinic to get an idea of the process for a clinic to be held in Brownsville next week, though what day and where it will take place are details still to be worked out, she said. The city and the county will make the announcement, Guajardo said.
Meanwhile, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and UT Health RGV announced Jan. 7 that online and phone registration for the vaccine has been suspended in the face of an overwhelming volume of requests.
“UT Health RGV has administered every vaccine we have received in a timely manner according to state and federal guidelines on prioritization, 4,105 vaccines in total as of (Jan. 5),” according to the announcement. “While we are working diligently to secure more vaccine doses, we do not have a definite time frame for receiving additional supplies. We will continue to provide regular updates regarding availability. Our goal is to be in touch with you constantly and to provide information as we receive it.”
The announcement also noted that “prior registration does not guarantee a vaccine.”
UT Health, along with the county, strongly urged residents to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and following other precautions to help prevent the further spread of the virus, which is already overtaxing hospital capacity in the county again, as it did during July and August.
While the Trump administration has been holding back supplies of the vaccine with the aim of making sure everyone who receives the first dose is able to get the required second dose, president-elect Joe Biden said Friday that almost all available vaccine doses should be made available immediately to get people vaccinated faster. He said invoking the Defense Production Act is an option for increasing vaccine production to ensure an adequate supply. The Pfizer version of the vaccine requires a second shot 21 days after the initial dose and the Moderna version 28 days afterward.
“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” said a Biden transition team spokesman. “He believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”
The latest information on vaccine availability in the county can be found at the Cameron County Public Health Facebook page and at uthealthrgv.org/covid.vaccine.