EDINBURG — Buses and vans carrying some of the most vulnerable among the population in Hidalgo County pulled up to the McAllen Convention Center Thursday, where the elderly received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.
Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu partnered with the city of McAllen and the McAllen Independent School District to vaccinate residents at all of the adult day care centers located in McAllen, San Juan and Hidalgo.
“As statistics have shown — it’s not my opinion, its statistics — the people that die at the highest rate are the elderly,” Cantu said during a news conference announcing the new initiative Thursday. “Look at the stats every day. Eighty percent of the people that we see (die) are 60- and 70-year-olds. Sure you have others, and they’re important to us too, but we have to have the compassion and dedication to think of the elderly first.”
The effort, dubbed a closed POD, or point of distribution, is the first of its kind in Hidalgo County, but it won’t be the last.
“Next week in Pharr, we’re going to do the same thing,” Cantu said. “Pharr has as many adult day care center constituents as these three other cities, so we’re going to dedicate a POD to the city of Pharr.”
McAllen Metro offered its buses to help transport the residents to the convention center, while the school district sent its nurses to do the actual vaccinations.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said there are an estimated 110,000 people over the age of 65 living in Hidalgo County, and getting them vaccinated is “a huge undertaking that could never, never get to a point of efficiency without the collaboration and effort of all of our communities and school districts working together.”
Cantu said the county initially focused its efforts on getting communities prepared for mass vaccinations by creating clinics at different locations throughout the county.
“Under the leadership of the county and Eddie Olivarez, we set up a bunch of PODS, a bunch of different places within the county, starting in Mercedes, we went to PSJA, we went to La Joya, Weslaco, Hidalgo. So many cities and communities have set up PODS. Why is that important,” he asked rhetorically. “Experience. So that when we do finally get enough supply for the demand that we have, we’re able to put everybody to work and put the vaccine in arms.”
Now that those efforts are off the ground, the attention has shifted to the elderly, Cantu said.
“And what’s the best way of helping the elderly? Well, we know that our elderly go to adult day cares. And in adult day cares, well they’re amongst their friends and the other people at adult day cares, so we figured, since they’re in a closed environment, we really had to consider them,” he said. “And so that’s what we did.”
Cortez estimated that between the county and the other entities offering vaccines, such as DHR Health and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, about 100,000 people have been vaccinated in Hidalgo County.
“Well, that’s 10%. So I think we’ve done fairly well,” Cortez said.
Still, both county officials continued to ask for patience.
“We have more need than vaccines,” Cortez said. “We’re trying to be efficient. Every day, every week that we do this job, we get better and better and better.”
Cantu noted there is still a long road ahead.
“At the current rate of pharmaceutical companies, it’s going to take an estimated 300 days. (President) Biden was saying a million vaccines a day, well, we’re 300 million people, so do the math and that’s 300 days,” he said. “Even if we’re stepping it up to 1.5 million vaccines a day, that’s still 150 days. So I beg the community to have the patience with us to give it to the people that need it most.”
As such, he vowed to wait his turn to receive the vaccine.
“I’m obviously not 65 and older, and I will not get the vaccine until we tend to our most vulnerable first,” Cantu said.