This week, Edinburg residents who still needed to get vaccinated had an extra incentive to do as the city of Edinburg and DHR Health partnered up to offer $100 gift cards during a special vaccine clinic held Friday and Saturday.

The gift cards — offered to those who received their first or second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and those who were eligible for and received their third dose — marked a new incentive for local residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the weekly number of vaccines administered in the Rio Grande Valley are, once again, on a downward trend.

For the week of Sept. 6 through Sept. 12, there were a total of 21,672 vaccine doses administered throughout the Rio Grande Valley, the latest in a continuing weekly decline since vaccinations hit a peak of 36,829 doses administered the week of Aug. 9 through Aug. 15.

Though far short of the 118,193 doses administered the first full week of April, the August high was a culmination of a growing interest in vaccines within the community that began in July, just as COVID cases and hospitalizations began to climb again at an alarming rate.

While administrations are declining again, cases and hospitalizations still remain high and health officials continue to remind residents who haven’t been fully vaccinated, to do so.

“The vaccine works and we continue to encourage those vaccines get given,” Dr. Robert Martinez, chief medical officer for DHR Health, said during a news conference Tuesday. “Their free, their very safe, they’re really miraculous with what we can do with those so I encourage you to get those.”

At DHR, there are anywhere between 40 to 60 admissions per day, according to Martinez, and many of those patients are treated in the intensive care unit.

“That’s our way out, back to normal life,” Martinez said of the vaccine. “That’s our way out of having our loved ones die in the hospital with no one at their bedside.”

The available vaccines largely offer protection against developing severe symptoms from the coronavirus disease, according to health officials, but there are still cases of fully-vaccinated individuals being hospitalized due to COVID and even dying because of it.

Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical director for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Public Health Region 11, said they are seeing more cases like that among individuals over 60 years old.

“We are starting to see that now with more and more people showing up to the hospital, more and more deaths that are starting to be reported,” Prot said. “We’re trying to look into all of this from an epi-background standpoint to better understand all of the risk factors and what has gone on.”

She pointed out that while 90% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated meant that a handful of those individuals were vaccinated and it’s something that the they are trying to understand.

“I do want to make sure that people understand that it happens and it happens quickly and so the best way to prevent that is through vaccination but it isn’t foolproof,” she said. “It’s not a full shield and so people can still get sick; they can either have moderate to mild symptoms but there are a few individuals that have that severe (symptoms) and now we’re starting to see some who have unfortunately passed away who are fully vaccinated.”

Still, Prot emphasized that people who were unvaccinated were at highest risk of hospitalization.

She acknowledged that vaccinations currently weren’t as prominent as they were in July but said the state was still seeing a steady flow of vaccines.

“Our region is the lead in providing vaccinations in the state so I think that we can definitely be very proud of our teams, our local health departments and our regional staff that are continuing to vaccinate at higher rates compared to other parts of Texas,” Prot said.

Going by 2020 Census data, nearly 72% of the entire Rio Grande Valley population had received at least one dose of the vaccine while about 61% were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to DSHS data.

Statewide, on the other hand, 58% had received at least one dose while about 50% were fully vaccinated.

The four counties within the Valley also led the state individually.

In Hidalgo County, 71% had received at least one dose while nearly 60% were fully vaccinated.

The vaccination rates in Cameron County were slightly higher with 74% of their population having received at least one dose and 63% now fully vaccinated.

In Starr County, 73% had received at least one dose and about 63% were fully vaccinated.

As for Willacy County, 67% of their population received at least one dose while 57% were fully vaccinated.

Those figures, however, might not be completely accurate as Prot noted that populations tended to be undercounted, especially along the border.

Nevertheless, she said the data was still a good reflection of how many people had stepped up to receive the vaccine and added that the state was continuing their vaccine outreach efforts.

Prot said they’ve had success offering vaccinations at flea markets and at schools through their partnerships with districts throughout the county.

“So there are still people that are coming in to get vaccinated,” Prot said. “We’re very proud of them and happy that they’re stepping up because we still have work to do.”

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