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County community clinic highlights demand for COVID-19 vaccine

For the first time in nearly a year, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Grounds were bustling with people after the annual livestock show was cancelled last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the large crowd at the showgrounds were there for the same reason the show was cancelled.

Dozens of people in a waiting area after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a Hidalgo County community clinic on the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds in Mercedes Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020. Progress Times photo by Jose De Leon III.

On Tuesday, Hidalgo County held their first community clinic to use up 800 dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect people from the disease that has killed more than 2,200 people in the county alone and infected nearly 54,000. Though the clinic was set to open at 8 a.m. that morning, a large amount of people showing up at the showgrounds overnight caused the county to announce they were at capacity by 6 a.m.

“We had to close and turn people away,” Hidalgo County Health and Human Services CEO Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez said at a press conference during the clinic. “This event was announced too early… It created a lot of anxiety and panic, so this morning when we counted how many people were here, we decided to close it off so people don’t wait for something they won’t receive.”

The clinic targeted those over the age of 65, frontline and healthcare workers and those with immunocompromised diseases. Olivarez said the county was planning a second community clinic in La Joya that occurred on Thursday to target residents in Western Hidalgo County.

“This is one of many clinics to come, the beginning of a long-term vaccination effort that will be happening throughout the rest of the year,” Olivarez said. “Frankly, I actually see us discussing having more vaccination clinics in the summer.”

All those who were vaccinated at the Show Grounds will return for their second dosage of the vaccine on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 28 days after their first dosage of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Olivarez said. 

Currently the state is in week four of distributions for the two available COVID-19 vaccines made from the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer. In total, the county has received over 22,000 vaccines over the last few weeks from the state according to Olivarez, who stressed the need for patience as the public waits for more vaccines.

“Is that enough? No.” Olivarez said Tuesday. “The reality is, this is going to take many weeks. We’re not ready for vaccinations for the general public. By Friday this week we will be out of vaccines. We have not gotten allocations for this week or the week after. So we’re at the subject of the state of Texas and the federal government to determine how many dosages we get.”

The supply of COVID-19 vaccines is even affecting The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine which has been providing COVID-19 vaccinations since last December. On Sunday, they announced that they have used up all their Moderna vaccines and have closed the vaccine registration form on their website until further notice.

“Last week, Texas received 359,000 vaccines to be distributed among areas deemed as in need of receiving vaccines,” Olivarez said. “It’s not a lot and must be split up between counties with the most need. Health officials predicted that by this point the state of Texas would have administered 4 million COVID vaccinations and we’re nowhere near there.”

Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director for Public Health Region 11, spoke of the need to make the vaccine available at Tuesday’s event. She added that this is happening nationwide.

“Right now there’s a larger demand than there is a vaccine,” Prot said. “We’re seeing small amounts trickling down and are getting people vaccinated. We’re really trying to work with what we have and get vaccines out to everyone. I know it seems like it’s a scarce resource but that’s because it is. Especially at the national level, not just in Texas.”

Prot added that the county should be receiving their week 5 allocation of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the week. A list of places providing the vaccine is available on the Texas Department of State Human Services’ website. 

“We’re doing the best we can with the amount they give us,” Olivarez said of the amount of COVID-19 vaccines. “We as a community need to understand that 2,200 people have died in Hidalgo County from COVID. 88% of them are over the age of 50. This is why we’re targeting the older population as well as school nurses and healthcare professionals.”

Despite a slow rollout to distribute the vaccine, Mercedes Mayor Oscar Montoya said the population is still thankful for receiving the vaccine.

“I know this isn’t enough vaccines but if you compound it and look at how many people are not going to get sick because they’ve been vaccinated, then the numbers of new infections will start decreasing,” Montoya said. “So we need people to take it seriously, this is working. We have to keep doing this to get past this. Every time someone doesn’t get sick, that’s someone else not being infected.”

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