DSHS assessing areas of need as demand for vaccine wanes

As demand for the COVID-19 vaccine appears to wane in areas across the state, the Texas Department of State Health Services is trying to assess where to best shift their allocations of available vaccine to areas that need it most.

Beginning next week providers throughout the state, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, are likely to request fewer vaccine doses as demand for doses among the public begins to level off, according to Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director for DSHS Public Health Region 11.

“Altogether, there has been, still, a decrease in this rush and that is something that I’m not excited to see because it’s just too early,” Prot said during a news conference call held Tuesday, “and if we see what’s going on in the world with India, any surge in any country, should worry us all.”

Though the state did not have exact numbers on how many people were missing out on vaccine appointments or how many doses were going unused, Prot said there was a general estimation that between 30-40% of vaccine appointments were no-shows.

“So what is that 30 or 40%? Is it because they got their vaccine elsewhere?” Prot posited. “We did see that, where people have been signing up to multiple areas and so they’ve gotten it elsewhere or some who might have changed their mind.”

She noted that there were situations, since the beginning, in which people couldn’t make their appointments due to an emergency or because they contracted COVID-19 and couldn’t go to get their vaccine.

“We don’t have any specific numbers for each one but we are aware that there are several causes that can lead to that, people that are not coming to their appointments,” she said.

Right now, she added, it’s important for the state to assess the reasons why people are missing appointments or are just not signing up to get vaccinated at all.

“Is it a confidence issue? Is it a hesitancy issue? Is it an access issue?” Prot said. “To really understand this, we will be working toward … to make sure that we bridge anywhere that we can and to reach out to the specific populations that are in need of a vaccine.”

The state is also focusing on where people prefer getting their vaccine, whether that be at their doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or a center that is on their way to work.

“We’re looking into all of those options and seeing where we can make sure that we get people,” she said.

But while demand lessens, providers will likely be requesting fewer doses in the coming weeks.

“If we’re seeing less uptake well then our providers are going to not place new orders for the following week so what we’ve been working with them to do is to keep their existing stock and make sure that they utilize it,” Prot said, “and once they utilize it, then they can place a new order.”

“Our main goal is to avoid waste of vaccine,” she said. “As we see in different parts of the world, people are begging for vaccine so we want to make sure that we’re working with everyone, that if we have enough on our shelves or in the refrigerators, that we keep it and that we utilize it before ordering more.”

Another thing that decreased this week was the number of new COVID-19 cases for the seven-day period, according to Dr. Elizabeth Cuevas who reported that in the last seven days, there were 1,131 new cases increase across Region 11, a 19-county area in South Texas that includes the Rio Grande Valley.

Those new cases are less than the 1,448 cases reported in the previous seven-day period.

“We are starting to see some more cases come in but this is still lower than it has been in the previous weeks so that is very good news,” Cuevas said during the news conference call.

In Hidalgo County, four more residents died due to COVID-19 and 165 people tested positive, according to a news release.

Of the 165 new cases, 82 are confirmed, 81 probable and two suspected, according to a news release from the county.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 58,082 confirmed cases, 28,413 probable and 1,549 suspected. Currently, there are 1,733 active cases.

The deaths of a McAllen woman in her 60s, an Edinburg man in his 60s, a Donna woman more than 70 years old, and a Weslaco man over 70 years old brings the county’s total number of deaths to 2,815.

The county also reported that 126 people were currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, 45 being treated in an intensive care unit.

Cameron County health officials reported four COVID-related deaths on Tuesday for a total of 1,610 fatalities. They also reported 90 more cases, raising their total to 40,179 confirmed cases. There are currently 3,016 active cases there.

Hospitalizations throughout the entire region are fluctuating but steady, Cuevas said.

“They’re still some of the lowest we’ve seen all year,” she said, adding that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Rio Grande Valley trauma service area made up 5.82% of all total hospitalizations.”

Because of the decrease in hospitalizations, the state is currently demobilizing nursing staff that were sent to hospitals dealing with a large number of COVID-19 patients.

Currently, there are 938 state-sponsored staff working in hospitals throughout Region 11, which is significantly down from the more than 6,000 nurses that were mobilized in December and January, according to Cuevas. The plan is to demobilze all remaining staff by May 15.

“This is good news because the hospitals are able to absorb the patients and treat them with their staff nurses,” Cuevas said.