COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Syringes containing the COVID-19 vaccine lay on a table for patients to receive at the Refugio County Community Center last week.

Local officials have finalized a plan for a mass vaccination site in Victoria if and when the state allocates enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to distribute to hundreds of people within a short span of time.

If the Victoria County Public Health Department, either of the major hospitals in Victoria, or the fire department receive a large allocation of vaccine doses in the coming weeks, a mass vaccination site would likely be the most effective way to distribute the shots, said David Gonzales, director of the Victoria County Public Health Department.

Such a vaccination clinic would only be necessary if a local provider needed to quickly distribute hundreds of doses, and may not be necessary depending on how the state health department distributes doses of the vaccine.

“We really just want to be prepared for any scenario that the state throws at us because their allocations really haven’t been predictable to this point,” Gonzales said.

If the state continues to allocate doses in relatively small amounts to different providers, distribution will be similarly piecemeal.

If a clinic were planned to distribute the vaccine, it would likely be staffed by employees from the health department, both local hospitals, the Victoria Fire Department, and other regional providers distributing the vaccine, Gonzales said.

Local health and emergency officials have also decided to resurrect Victoria’s COVID-19 hotline specifically to answer vaccine-related questions. The hotline will go live at 10 a.m. Thursday and will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays, Gonzales said. The hotline will only be able to answer basic questions about the vaccine and will not act as a vaccine waitlist.

Throughout the Crossroads and especially in Victoria County, residents have been confused by the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which has allowed more Texans to be eligible for the vaccine than there are shots available to distribute to them. Clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies have been unable to tell their patients when they can give them the vaccine, as the state thus has only announced vaccine distribution on a week-by-week basis.

“It’s hard to know to what scale and how to schedule everything if we have no idea what we’re getting,” Gonzales said. “That’s the frustrating part.”

In Victoria County, vaccine doses have been shipped to both major hospital systems, the health department, fire department, local pharmacies and private medical offices. In the first five weeks of the vaccine rollout, providers generally have not received advance notice about when or how much vaccine they will receive.

“As soon we get information that we’re getting more vaccine, we’re going to be pushing that out,” Gonzales said. “We just need patience right now. We understand the frustrations. We are frustrated alongside with you that we’re not getting the vaccine as quickly or in the amounts that we feel that we should be.”

Any vaccines distributed by the health department, whether in a mass clinic or in a smaller setting, will be appointment-based, Gonzales said. The health department does not plan on opening a waitlist for vaccines because managing one would be too time-intensive for the department’s staff, which is focused on distributing vaccines and COVID-19 case management, he said.

To help keep the public informed about vaccine availability, officials are considering using the emergency notification system used during Hurricane Harvey to notify residents when more vaccine doses are available, who is eligible for them and how residents can sign up, Gonzales said. Emergency management officials will likely make a final decision about using the emergency notification system sometime this week.

In Texas, only about half of the vaccine doses shipped out have actually been given to residents, according to the state health department.

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Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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