Starr County attempting to acquire more vaccines for mass distribution

In an attempt to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to more people, Starr County officials are hoping to obtain more doses from the state to hold mass vaccinations like those already held in neighboring Hidalgo County.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said during a news conference Friday morning that he was in talks with state officials in an attempt to distribute more vaccines to their residents.

“Dr. (Antonio) Falcon and I have been aggressively communicating with the state and just about anyone that we feel can help us with the vaccines and we are working on trying to get a mass vaccination done here in the county,” Vera said. “We don’t have anything for sure but we got people working on it. The state is working on it to see if they can help us do that.”

“We need to keep pushing because we need a lot of vaccines in our community,” Vera added. “But I just want to assure everyone that we are trying; we’re doing the best we can. We’ve gotten some positive response but, again, it’s not a done deal as of now.”

Hidalgo County health officials have already held two community vaccine clinics aimed at distributing the vaccine on a first come, first served basis to healthcare workers, employees of long-term care facilities, people aged 65 and older, and people 18 and older with certain medical conditions.

Both clinics reached capacity before they were scheduled to open.

Falcon, the county health authority, said that as a small county, Starr has gotten very few doses of vaccine so far.

Through the fourth week of distribution, the state has allocated 1,300 doses to Starr County. One contributing factor is that Starr County does not have the low-temperature freezers needed to adequately store the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and therefore providers in the county have only received vaccines manufactured by Moderna. The county’s efforts to acquire more vaccines come as the positive cases of COVID-19 continue to climb. Falcon reported Friday that from Dec. 29 through Jan. 6, the county had 395 new positive cases.

“We have been struggling to get more vaccines as quickly as possible for our community,” Falcon said. “I want all of you to know the judge has been working day and night — he’s called in a lot of favors from a lot of the state-level politicians and with people that we know in Austin to try to get more vaccines.”

Meanwhile, Falcon said county officials are working on having a plan in place in case they are able to get ahold of the requested doses.

“We’ve been in the process of trying to get a plan for mass distribution going, if needed,” Falcon said. “The judge, the hospital administrator and myself have been in discussions a couple of times regarding what to do, when to do it and how to do it.”

“Nothing has been set in concrete at this point,” Falcon added. “There’s discussions planned next week, some time, depending on the judge’s decision, but also clearly planning — in a more precise way — how many, where and when.”

Vera is expected to consult with local officials in the next few days regarding that distribution plan, Falcon said.

“The judge will be the ultimate decision-maker on that and we’ll be hearing from him after he has the opportunity to meet with several members of schools and the hospital in the next few days,” Falcon said.