Harlingen’s hometown vaccinations run smoothly

HARLINGEN — For Elaine Flores, her COVID-19 vaccination is a “life-saver.”

On Friday, Flores was among 1,000 people 65 and older who received the vaccine during the city’s first community vaccination clinic.

In a drizzling rain, temperatures hovered in the upper 30s as a long line of cars steadily streamed toward the Harlingen Convention Center.

Under the building’s sprawling covered entryway, a team of six nurses ran a two-lane vaccination station, administering the Moderna vaccine to people sitting in six cars at a time.

“This is looking very good,” Mayor Chris Boswell said. “This is very, very well run.”

As part of the state’s vaccination program, the clinic targeted people 65 and older, the population which has suffered most COVID-19-related deaths, Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said.

“It’s great,” Flores, 67, said as she sat in her car in a parking lot as paramedics checked for any reactions to the shots.

Flores, a heart patient suffering from diabetes, said her doctor warned her to take the vaccine to protect her from the coronavirus, which threatens her life.

“The doctor insisted I get it,” the retired administrative assistant said. “Because of my underlying conditions, I would be susceptible to getting COVID and I wouldn’t have the resistance to fight it. My chances would be slim to none. I would more than likely be intubated and not come out of it.”

Preventing a second bout with COVID-19

From 6 to 10 a.m. — an hour ahead of schedule — six nurses from the Harlingen school district, Valley Baptist Medical Center and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Public Health had administered 500 doses, Ramirez said.

From 11 to 3 p.m., they planned to administer the remaining 500 doses.

“For 1,000 doses, it’s going very smoothly,” Ramirez said.

Next to Flores’ car, Robert Reyes said he was counting on the vaccine to help prevent a second bout with COVID-19, which led to his two-week hospitalization in October.

“He said if I got COVID a second time it could be worse,” Reyes, 69, a retired tool room supervisor from Illinois suffering diabetes and hypertension, said after driving in from Lyford. “He was concerned that I could get COVID again.”

As he fought pneumonia, his fever climbed to 104 during his battle with the coronavirus, Reyes said.

“It’s very important,” he said of the vaccine. “My oxygen level was real low. I don’t want to get COVID again.”

The City of Harlingen in partnership with Cameron County hosted a first dose COVID-19 vaccination drive thru clinic for residents 65 and older at the Harlingen Convention Center yesterday. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

Streamlining the vaccination process

At City Hall, officials planned to streamline the vaccination process to cut down on waiting time during the cold, rainy day.

On Thursday, people pre-registered for their vaccinations, picking up wristbands carrying identification numbers they showed to receive their doses Friday.

Meanwhile, the wristbands assigned them to one of two vaccination groups.

After nurses administered the vaccine to the first group from 6 to 10 a.m., they moved on to the second group from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We want to be as efficient as possible so we can minimize the waiting time for the public,” Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez, who was overseeing the clinic, said.

For the clinic’s site, officials picked the convention center, whose series of parking lots and surrounding roadways streamlined traffic flow.

“The configuration for the circulation of the vehicles was laid out so we could manage 400 to 500 vehicles at one time,” Sanchez said. “We’ve been able to manage the roadways very efficiently. We’re doing 1,000 which is manageable for the layout we have.”

‘Off to a good start’

Since last month, Cameron County officials have held two vaccination clinics at Harlingen’s Casa del Sol community center.

But Friday marked the first clinic which city officials organized and managed.

“It’s great to get started in our community,” Boswell said. “This is special because our staff is managing it and doing such a great job.”

“It’s not as many doses, but it’s efficient — we don’t want people waiting in their cars all night. There are little details — we’ve got porta-potties staged along the road so if you’re in a line you can run to the bathroom. We’re trying to make it as easy on the public as we can.”

Planning more vaccination clinics

At City Hall, officials are planning to hold more vaccination clinics.

For about a month, residents were calling for hometown vaccinations, pushing city leaders to request state and county officials allocate vaccine doses to allow them to hold a clinic here.

“The county told us as they get more vaccine, they’ll be able to distribute to us as well,” Ramirez said. “It all depends on the supply.”

For the last five weeks, state health officials have been shipping the county 2,000 doses a week, Melissa Elizardi, the county’s spokeswoman, said earlier this week, adding county officials are working with local city leaders to help them hold vaccination clinics in their hometowns.

Now, local officials expect the state will begin boosting its shipments to 15,000 to 20,000 doses, Boswell said.

“To me it makes more sense to spread it out. I hope they continue to do that,” Boswell said, referring to the county’s plan to allocate cities vaccine doses to allow them to hold their own clinics.

“To have Harlingen, Brownsville, San Benito and some of the other communities distributing the vaccine makes it easier on the public,” he said. “It’s close to where they live and they don’t have to wait all night long to get the vaccine. We’re trying to make it easier on people, especially this group 65 and older.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com