The City of Presidio saw its first state-run mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic held on Thursday. Officials in the border community hope as more vaccines become available across the Big Bend region, more events like this will be held so the city doesn’t have to continue to rely on one local clinic for vaccines.
By Mitch Borden
A growing number of vulnerable residents in Presidio are being vaccinated, but local officials say they need more assistance from the state to reach more of the city’s population.
For months, some residents have driven hours to receive their COVID-19 vaccines in faraway cities like Midland and Odessa. Others, including some of the Big Bend region’s frontline workers have received their vaccinations through local, one-day clinics. But since late December, the majority of vaccines have come to Presidio in small shipments from either the state or larger medical facilities in the Permian Basin.
But this week, Officials from the Texas Department of State Health Service and members of the Texas National Guard held their first mass vaccination event at Presidio’s activity center, where, by the end of the day, around 440 people received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve been asking for this and sometimes you’re not quite sure whose ear you need to bend to make that request,” said Presidio Mayor John Ferguson, who received his first vaccine shot at the one-day clinic.
Originally, Ferguson said the state was only planning on sending around 20 vaccines to the community of approximately 4,000. Then the number of shots jumped to around 300 and national guard members would help run the clinic. Then on the day of the event over hundred extra vaccines were sent as well.
These changes were a welcome surprise for the town, which hasn’t had a secure supply of vaccines for months. Ferguson is optimistic this could just be the beginning of even more local events and more people getting vaccinated by the state.
“If we can, kind of, connect the dots and say, ‘Ok we’re able to mobilize the personnel in Presidio and we’ve got the facility, so let’s shoot for even bigger numbers,’ and again as soon as possible.”
Across the Big Bend region, including in Presidio, vaccines were hard to come by when Texas began it’s vaccination rollout, but recently that’s begun to change.
According to data provided by the state, nearly 40% of the population who are 16 and older in the three counties that make up the Big Bend have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — about double the state average.
But local medical providers say the situation on the ground is a different story than what the numbers tell.
For months, the primary place residents could get vaccinated in Presidio was at a clinic with Preventative Care Health Service. PCHS runs three clinics across the Big Bend and it was the first medical provider in the region to receive and distribute vaccines.
Linda Molinar is the CEO of PCHS and says everytime they hold a vaccination event that means at least one or more of her clinics will have to stop providing their normal services.
“I have to make a lot of choices every day we choose to close our clinic, especially in Presidio,” Molinar said of the difficulty of being the main vaccine provider in the city “If I close our clinic in Presidio, there is no other place our patients can go to,”said Molinar.
There are limited options when it comes to medical care in Presidio, the closest hospital is about 90 miles away. That means when PCHS holds a vaccination event, they have to stop all other operations, pivoting entirely to providing vaccines. So patients who need everyday services, like a visit to their pharmacy or a check up, can’t get what they need.
“I know this is, right now, what our community needs—so I close the clinics. But that means a diabetic patient isn’t taken care of that day, or my staff have to work twice [as long].”
Molinar has been a proponent for the state coming to Presidio to hold mass vaccinations, because her staff just doesn’t have the capacity to keep up with the demand. And with the state of Texas slowly allowing more people to get the vaccine that demand will only rise.
According to Molianar, “It is too difficult. It’s almost impossible for us to do it right now.”
Presidio’s Emergency Medical Service Director Malynda Richardson agrees with Molinar that the state needs to do more in Presidio.
“We need help, I mean I don’t think it’s fair to rely on one clinic to do all of the vaccines down here.”
Richardson was excited about the state coming to Presidio to vaccinate hundreds, but she was also clear that the community needs more than just one event. Especially as facilities across the Big Bend announce that they are moving beyond the state’s vaccination plan and administering shots to anyone who is 16 and older.
“If we’re opening up to that extent then I would certainly hope that we can get a large vaccine clinic here in Presidio and be able to say come one, come all get your vaccine,” Richardson said.
Richardson believes state officials are realizing Presidio’s need, but as of Thursday evening, city leaders didn’t when or if the state would return for another large-scale vaccination event.