Closed PODs, permanent sites and pleas for more doses of the coronavirus vaccines were the big takeaways from a news conference Hidalgo County officials held together with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district during a vaccination clinic the two held cooperatively Wednesday.
The first of two clinics was held that day at the PSJA Early College High School in San Juan, where 1,000 Moderna vaccines were administered. This followed a vaccination clinic held Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, where DHR Health administered 6,500 doses.
Another 1,000 inoculations are expected at the high school Thursday and will be held simultaneously with a vaccination clinic in Western Hidalgo County.
But as county officials work together with cities, school districts and hospital systems to ramp up the vaccination effort, the county health department’s top official said during Wednesday’s news conference that more vials are needed.
According to Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer for Hidalgo County Health and Human Services, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court has asked the state for a larger allocation of vaccines to match the need, and lauded their efforts in doing so.
“I have to congratulate our commissioners court, Judge (Richard F.) Cortez, Commissioner (Eddie) Cantu and all of our commissioners. They have made a very strong plea … to the state that we should be allowed a higher allocation than what they have been giving us, something that is commensurate with the seventh most populated county in Texas,” Olivarez said. “Therefore, we should be getting allocations that represent the seventh most populated county in Texas.”
More vaccines are expected in the county but as of press time had yet to arrive. Allocations announced by the county have often numbered in the single thousands for a population nearing 900,000 people, and in a region where the number of cases and hospitalizations continue to increase — a trend observed after the holidays.
“Allocations are made by the state, but we do not know what we’re going to get. We were assigned as a hub by the state of Texas, they called us on Thursday, they delivered on Friday, and they said you have to use it by next Friday. So (snaps fingers) fast … we’re getting that done,” Olivarez said before announcing that the commissioners court has made a case for more doses. “We’re at the will and the hands of the pharmaceuticals, the CDC and the Department of State Health Services on how much vaccine we get.”
He also noted the development of a drive-thru site to act as a mobile vaccine clinic, adding that the county is working with a “neighboring community” to achieve this as officials work to address the need for a large enough parking area to observe for reactions.
Such a clinic would be a closed POD (point of dispensing) to “target specific people who have a disability or transportation issue that cannot get out of a vehicle,” as well as for school nurses.
“The goal is to vaccinate as many school nurses as possible,” he said.
Olivarez said earlier in the news conference that the county is working to establish permanent distribution sites with both PSJA and the La Joya school districts.
“We’re looking at developing four to five permanent sites in Hidalgo County with Emergency Management Chief Ricardo Saldana and many of the mayors and city managers in our community and superintendents,” he said. “That’s the vision. That’s the only way we’re going to overcome this. We need to work as a community.”
Thursday’s community vaccine clinic in Western Hidalgo County, in which 1,000 doses will be administered, will be the second held in that part of the county.
In conjunction with the La Joya Independent School District, the county is holding the clinic at Juarez-Lincoln High School at 7801 W. Mile 7 Road in Mission.
Officials will again be administering the Moderna vaccine to healthcare workers, individuals who are 65 or older, and people 18 and older with certain medical conditions.
Distribution will begin at 8 a.m. Thursday on a first come, first served basis.
The vaccine distribution will be occurring simultaneously with the second clinic in San Juan.
“The fact that we are holding two different vaccine clinics in two areas of Hidalgo County is very significant,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez stated in the release. “We are committed to getting as many vaccinations done as soon as possible.”
Police will be on hand at the clinic to direct people to a parking lot to await vaccination.
Health officials also listed several recommendations:
>> Bring ID and proof of medical condition (current medication, a prescription from their doctor).
>> Bring clearance letter from their physician.
>> People are encouraged to bring water and snacks.
>> There will be extended periods of waiting and sitting.
>> Children 18 and under should not be in the clinic.
>> Those seeking vaccines that have mobility issues are allowed to be accompanied by one person for assistance.
A form that can be printed and prefilled is available at www.hidalgocounty.us.
During the PSJA news conference on Wednesday, Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu asked for patience from the community as the county continues its efforts to make the vaccine available for its citizens.
“The demand for this vaccine is incredible. Everybody wants it, but the quantities we have worldwide are very little,” Cantu said. “We beg you for patience. We beg you to allow those that need it most, which are people 65 and older and also people with underlying conditions. We know from the death toll that those are the people that have been most affected by the virus.”
Cantu also called for residents who have contracted the virus and have not yet received the vaccine to donate plasma.
“We need it. We need your plasma,” Cantu said. “We’re going to make a full out press push to get more plasma. Hospitals are begging for it. Our people need it. We also need to stay as healthy as possible to fight this virus. Take your vitamins. Get outside. Do what you can so that if you do get the virus, you’re able to defeat it as fast as possible.”