Firefighters, paramedics team up to take COVID vaccine to Harlingen residents’ doors

HARLINGEN — Since the pandemic’s outbreak a year ago, many homebound residents have been locked in their houses, often cut off from the world amid the fear of the coronavirus.

Now, the city’s firefighters are teaming up with ambulance crews, bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to their doors to protect one of the city’s most vulnerable groups while helping them open up their lives.

As part of the city’s new Homebound Vaccination Program, a team of 15 firefighters is working with the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation to find homebound residents and offer them the vaccine.

“They can’t come to us so we’re going to them,” Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said Tuesday.

“The majority are bedridden or homebound on doctors’ conditions,” he said. “They are handicapped with underlying health conditions. They are vulnerable, already battling an illness, so we want to make sure they’re protected.”

For many, fear of contracting the virus has cut them off from family members since the pandemic’s outbreak in March 2020, Ramirez said.

“Their visits are limited out of concern of being exposed to COVID,” he said. “The hope is, once they’re vaccinated, more family members can visit and they can welcome more visitors without the fear of COVID.”

Offshoot of STEC’s home testing

Since the state launched its vaccination program in mid December, city officials have been setting up community vaccination clinics to give residents the chance to protect themselves against the coronavirus, City Manager Dan Serna stated.

Now, the city’s new “vaccine team” is going to the doors of the homebound.

“I’m very proud of all our employees,” Serna stated. “This is another example of what they do for the community.”

To develop the program, Dr. Michael Mohun, the city’s health authority who serves as STEC’s medical director, oversaw paramedics train 15 firefighters to administer the vaccine, Ramirez said.

The city’s new Homebound Vaccination Program’s an offshoot of STEC’s COVID-19 home testing campaign.

Last June, STEC opened its program offering COVID-19 testing to the city’s homebound residents.

Since then, the company has worked to identify the homebound, testing 246 for the coronavirus, Rene Perez, STEC’s transport director, said, adding some have died of complications after contracting the virus during the last year.

“This group of folks is very vulnerable,” he said. “We want to make the vaccine available to them. They can’t get out of the house so we bring the vaccine to them — whatever we can do to take out the threat of the pandemic and allow them to get out of house to see the doctor.”

Program aims to save, open up lives

Now, Ramirez is turning to STEC’s list, calling homebound residents to offer them the chance to get vaccinated.

“We’re going through that list to see who wants to get it along with their providers,” he said. “We’re still sorting out the calls.”

As part of the program, firefighters are administering the Pfizer vaccine while paramedics observe the patients for any adverse reactions.

“STEC will monitor the patient and they have lifesaving skills,” Ramirez said.

Since the city launched the program Monday, the team has vaccinated about 20 homebound residents, Ramirez said.

For them, the program’s helping to save lives while opening up their world.

“They’re very eager, very thankful, very excited to be vaccinated,” Ramirez said.