By Carlos Morales
For a little over a month now, the state has been distributing COVID-19 vaccines produced by biomedical companies Pfizer and Moderna, but the rollout has been confusing and frustrating, especially for residents in rural communities.
Here are some answers to questions we’ve received.
Summary: There are currently three vaccine providers in the Big Bend region — Preventative Care Health Services, Big Bend Regional Medical Center and the state health services clinic in Marfa. However, vaccine supplies are limited and all facilities are waiting for more doses from the state. There are two ways to currently register for the vaccine when it’s available locally, here through PCHS and here with the Department of State Health Services. In addition to area providers, Odessa’s Medical Center Hospital has set up a website for West Texas, including residents in the Big Bend region, to pre-register for vaccinations.
For more details about the vaccine rollout, continue reading below.
The state’s plan for distributing the vaccine right now prioritizes two groups, healthcare workers and certain high-risk individuals. Where exactly are we at locally when it comes to getting vaccinations out to these two groups?
The state has dubbed the two groups eligible for the coronavirus vaccine “1A” and “1B.” So you might see that phrasing from time to time. Now, the 1A group is covers frontline workers, health care officials, nurses, doctors, first responders.
In late December, the state said providers could begin vaccinations for people included in the 1B vaccination group. That group covers people over 65 and people older than 16 with certain underlying conditions, like cancer, heart conditions, and obesity.
In the Big Bend region, there are three vaccine providers currently and two of them are still reserving vaccines for frontline workers.
When might we see the region move onto vaccinating this second group of high-risk people?
We’re already seeing that happen now. Preventative Care Health Services, which has clinics in Alpine, Marfa and Presidio, has moved on to vaccinating people in the 1B category.
However, PCHS has has already used up the limited vaccine doses they were given by the state. PCHS does have a form, where you can sign up to be vaccinated, but again their clinics don’t have doses right now. So just because you fill out this form signing up for a vaccination, doesn’t mean you’ll immediately receive one.
Anyone in the public can sign up, but PCHS is prioritizing 1B and whichever groups the state says are next in line for vaccinations. Additionally, the Department of State Health Services has set up a vaccine registration form for residents in the West Texas health district.
If you’re unable to access PCHS’ online registration form, you can reach them at the following number and leave a voicemail: 432-837-4843
In addition to providers in the Big Bend area, Odessa’s Medical Center Hospital has set up a website for West Texas, including residents in the Big Bend region, to pre-register for coronavirus vaccinations.
The vaccine rollout from the state has been pretty slow, and we’re already about a month in. What’s going on?
Texas is largely relying on places like clinics, hospitals, pharmacies to perform vaccinations. And before any of these places can get doses of the vaccine they have to become registered with the state as a provider, which some local healthcare providers say is a pretty tedious process.
Right now, there are three official vaccine providers in our area: Big Bend Regional Medical Center, the state’s healthcare clinic in Marfa, and Preventative Care Health Services. But again only PCHS has moved onto the 1B vaccination group.
So we have a few facilities in the Big Bend now registered with the state, but still not a whole lot of vaccines. What does the overall distribution chain look like?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the agency that decides how many doses of the vaccine each state gets. From there, the state divides vaccine allotments among the providers who are registered.
In terms of why we’ve seen so few vaccines so far, supply issues are a leading factor. But there’s another reason particular to where we live. Our facilities in the Big Bend are largely only capable of storing just one of the two approved vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at very specific, ultra-cold temperatures — and our facilities don’t have the equipment for that.
So while there are two vaccines available right now, for the Big Bend region and likely other rural areas, really there’s just one, the Moderna vaccine.
Is there any chance we could see the state come in with some sort of team to help vaccinate our residents?
As it’s outlined in Texas’ vaccination plan, officials could send “specialized vaccine teams” to the area, much like they did with mobile testing. These would be groups that would target areas throughout Texas with limited access, which would likely include the Big Bend region. However, the state is only planning for that when a large number of doses are available.
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