Mass Injection: More than 2,000 receive COVID-19 vaccine in county clinic

Twenty-one-year-old Valerie Serrata prepares to be inoculated with the Moderna vaccination in Brownsville, Texas Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, during a COVID-19 Cameron County Vaccine Clinic at Brownsville Sports Park Dome. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

More than 2,000 community members attended a Cameron County COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Friday at the Brownsville Sports Park where BISD, UT Health, IDEA, the City of Brownsville and the county staff partnered to get the people in and out as fast as possible.

With vouchers in hand, community members started to make the line at early hours in the morning to still be able to secure a spot. The City of Brownsville distributed vaccination vouchers on Wednesday to avoid having long lines at the clinic.

“The voucher system was overseen by the City of Brownsville, they chose to distribute them two days before,” Esmeralda Guajardo, health administrator at Cameron County, said.

“The intent of the voucher is more to control the number of people in line. Let’s say for the Harlingen and Los Fresnos situation, when we know that we only have a limited amount of vaccines, it makes no sense to have 5,000 in line when we know we only have 2,000 vaccines.”

For this clinic, attendees had to park, get out of their vehicles and get in line for a few minutes with a short number of people so then they could enter the gymnasium at the park and receive their vaccine by one of the 20 vaccinators. If their walking abilities were limited, there were also nurses available in the parking lot to distribute the vaccine there. The vaccinators were a combination of Cameron County Public Health staff, IDEA schools, Brownsville Independent School District and UT School of Public Health.

“These things we kind of set them up in the spur of the moment because we don’t know when we are going to get the vaccines,” Guajardo said.  “We receive notice and then we start planning, although we already have an idea on where we want to work on, we already have an idea of what the next site it’s going to be. … Los Fresnos was very successful because it was a drive-thru, people did not have to step out of their cars and it was quicker.”

Guajardo said the county should receive another batch of COVID-19 vaccines early next week. She said they had a call on Thursday with the State of Texas where they announced the next batch.

“As soon as we do know, we send it on social media, the Judge’s Office sends out a press release and then the media, so that people can know in advance and plan,” she said about the next clinic date.

“We had a call yesterday (Thursday) with the State and they were saying we should be getting vaccines probably by Monday. I think if it’s a large batch we will get it out in one day. We try to get it out as soon as we get it, we don’t want to sit on it.”

Guajardo said the county is following the State’s guidelines as to who is eligible to receive the vaccine. She said that unfortunately, some of the underlying conditions are not detected by plain sight and they have to rely a lot on the honor system. She advises those who are healthy to wait to receive their vaccine so those who need it the most can get it first.

“If you are fairly healthy, wait. Because with some of these underlying health conditions, it’s very easy to not be evident,” she said.

“It’s very hard to know and unfortunately we are in a situation where the honor system has to be implemented because we don’t know. Since we are trying to get many people in and out as soon as possible, with the medical assessment we don’t have that manpower, that we rely a lot on the public to be completely honest with us.”

Griselda Arteaga, who got to the park at 4 a.m. to start the line, said the vouchers were a good idea. Arteaga received the vaccine along with both of her parents who are 78 and 82 years old.

Arteaga said the main reason she wanted to take the vaccine was to protect her parents because they are older. She said she spends a great part of the day with them.

“We are still going to take safety measures but we feel a little more at peace,” she said.