Earlier this year, Cameron County faced the daunting task of addressing overwhelming demand for COVID-19 vaccine with limited doses allocated by the state.
Now it has the opposite problem, says county Public Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo: No shortage of doses but a dwindling number of takers. That’s not good, considering only 42 percent of the county’s population 16 and older had been fully vaccinated as of April 30 according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Less than 62 percent of county residents 16 and older have received at least one dose, according to the state. The numbers for older residents were better, with more than 66 percent of residents 65 and older fully vaccinated and over 80 percent having received at least one dose.
Fewer than 34 percent of Texas residents have been fully vaccinated, and less than 49 percent have received at least one dose, according to the state. Less than 63 percentage of Texas residents 65 and older had been fully vaccinated and fewer than 76 percent had received at least one dose as of April 30.
Guajardo said the county’s daily new case count is fairly steady and nowhere near last summer’s deadly surge, though “people are still dying from COVID.” As the number of adults getting vaccinated has increased, children under 16, who can’t yet get vaccinated, will make up a larger share of the new virus cases there are, Guajardo said.
“This is something that we’re going to start seeing,” she said. “We’re already seeing it.”
Children who are becoming infected aren’t catching the virus in classrooms but, in most cases, from adult family members who have not been vaccinated, Guajardo said.
“We tend to find little clusters,” she said.
That’s a very good reason why every adult in the county should get vaccinated, Guajardo said.
Her department’s mission is shifting from vaccine distribution logistics to trying to reach vaccine holdouts — people who are refusing to get vaccinated for whatever reason. Vaccinations are widely available thanks to public clinics held regularly by public health and the county’s municipalities and many doctor’s offices providing shots, Guajardo said.
Anyone who needs help locating the nearest vaccination clinic should call the department hotline at (956) 247-3650. Information is also available on the Cameron County Public Health Facebook page.
The department continues to try to remove any and all conceivable obstacles that might prevent residents from being vaccinated, and is working with churches, community organizations and even flea markets to get the word out that the vaccine is available, safe and effective, she said.
About 100 million people nationwide have received either the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, while instances of severe allergic reactions are extremely low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no cost to receive a vaccination and U.S. citizenship is not required. No documents of any kind are required to get vaccinated through the county, which is distributing the Moderna vaccine, Guajardo said.
Despite the wide availability of vaccines now, getting shots in every arm in the county is becoming more of an uphill battle, she said. During a recent clinic, scheduled on a Saturday to accommodate work schedules, only 300 people showed up, Guajardo noted. Still, conveniently scheduled clinics will continue, she said.
“We just want to get people vaccinated,” Guajardo said. “We’re always going to have that little group that just does not believe in the vaccine. That’s what we’re going to start tackling. The best way to tackle fear is through education.”
Until more people get vaccinated it will be impossible to reach the herd immunity necessary to fully shut down the virus, she said. Guajardo conceded that it’s exasperating having to essentially beg people to take this safe, common-sense step to protect themselves and their loved ones, while doing their part to help defeat COVID-19 once and for all.
“So we’re working on accessibility,” Guajardo said. “We’re going to go out there, we’re going to go hard, we’re going to try to get people vaccinated. But at some point we know we’re going to be hitting a dead end, because we’re going to be dealing with folks that just don’t want it. I’d like to understand, but it’s very difficult. I don’t have a choice but to try to work with them.”