With many questions still surrounding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, Palo Pinto County officials are desperately reaching out for help to get more.
“We’ve been working, reaching out to anybody we can to try to find out about getting more vaccine and I hope you all realize the shortage that there is nationwide,” Palo Pinto County Judge Shane Long said at this week’s commissioners court meeting. “I was on a conference call with the department of emergency management and also the department of state health services last week and this week I think we’re supposed to be getting 332,000 doses for the entire state of Texas, which when you’re talking about 29 million people is not much.”
Long cited an article about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stating she did not know how much of the vaccine the nation had.
An article published by CNBC on Jan. 24 quotes Walensky as saying, “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.”
And Long said that’s where the problem lies.
“We call and try to find out when we’re going to get it and the state can tell us nothing about when we’re going to get [the vaccine] because they don’t know when the federal government is going to ship to Texas,” he said. “Then you find out that the CDC doesn’t even know what we’ve got. I’m not blaming anybody, I’m not knocking anybody, we’re just in one of those situations where people want to know what the answer is, and the bottom line is we just don’t know.”
Palo Pinto County Health Officer Ed Evans said while he can’t give a specific number on how many residents are fully vaccinated at this time, they have administered roughly 1,000 first doses and 300 second doses.
“There are only two vaccine sites in Palo Pinto County, that’s the hospital and then the health department office. The health department office is limited in that they only have one nurse and one clerk, so they can only administer very few doses — about 20 a day. So they’re strapped and we’re going to try to help them out,” he said. “The hospital has the capacity to do a lot more but we just don’t have the vaccine and we’re working on that.”
Evans added that the nursing homes are being handled by the federal government or medication sources and so are under different support, but have been immunized.
Palo Pinto County Emergency Management Coordinator Mistie Moon said Mineral Wells Fire Chief Mike Pool has registered the department to be a vaccine provider. Moon added that she would be meeting with officials this week to “actually put together a written plan so we can submit a written plan for a drive-thru type vaccine clinic just in hopes that we will be able to get more allocations.”
Evans said he has received the first dose of the vaccine and feels that it’s safe and effective.
As for additional provider locations, Evans said he doesn’t know that any private practices will get on board.
“The average physician’s office would have to hire a couple of other people just to manage that part of it,” he said. “It would be economically unfeasible to have to hire two or three more people in an already busy practice just to manage the [vaccinations]. It’s not a desirable thing to do as far as a private physician is concerned.”
But Evans said Palo Pinto General Hospital is doing well with administering the vaccines.
“I think we have a very efficient system and can manage it quite well because we have the personnel to do so with volunteers and so forth,” he said. “Basically, we could handle 200 administrations an hour here. That’s what we have the capacity to do if we had the doses.”
As of this week, Evans said the only doses available in the county are a second-dose shipment.
“We can request every Thursday for doses and then those doses are shipped on Monday and they’re usually in the range of 100 to 200 doses,” he said. “We can order weekly but you’re not guaranteed to get as many as you ordered.”
Long said Palo Pinto County officials have investigated becoming a vaccine hub but thinks it’s unlikely, adding that they’ve been looking into setting up their own mass immunization clinics.
“We’re working on plans where we could do mass clinics and have a couple of locations identified for that. We have the capacity and staff to administer somewhere between 200 and 400 doses a day if we had the vaccine,” he said. “One of the other things we’ve discussed is the possibility of going in together — the city, the county and the hospital district — and purchasing a freezer to actually hold the Pfizer — which is like 80 degrees below zero, it’s a cold situation but those are like $14,000 — in hopes that maybe potentially that would give us the opportunity to have another vaccine avenue.”
Evans said the most important thing residents can do at this time is be patient.
“I know it’s difficult to be patient and they feel like, ‘the guy across the street got his, why can’t I get mine?’ There’s a lot of ifs, ands and buts about it,” he said. “Another thing we need to ask folks is to help their friends and neighbors that don’t have access to a computer. We need to help each other.”
As for additional information, Evans said once people are vaccinated, they will still need to mask up and social distance.
“I think the only way out of this pandemic, in my opinion, is 75-80% of the people either have to have had the disease or had the vaccination, otherwise it’s still going to be free-flowing,” he said. “People ask how long before they’re protected and the experts tell us about two weeks after your second dose, the protection is there as far as you personally are concerned. The problem that we have and the thing we don’t know yet is if people can still contract the virus after they’ve been immunized and you won’t get sick from it, but you can still pass it to other people.”
To register for the Palo Pinto County vaccine list, visit ppgh.com or the Palo Pinto General Hospital Facebook page.
Vaccine eligibility remains open for those in Phases 1A and 1B, which includes frontline healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities, people over 65 or with a chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID‑19, or people 16 years of age and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19.