Vouchers, Tickets, Missed Messages: How getting a COVID-19 vaccine is harder than expected in the RGV

Local News

Harlingen, Texas (KVEO)—The Rio Grande Valley’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been troubled, based on the flood of email sent to KVEO from disgruntled viewers. Many are confused with their respective county’s distribution plans.

Last week, the city of Brownsville announced vouchers for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, and that they would be given away to eligible residents.

The announcement was made through Facebook, but some, eager to get the newly acquired Moderna vaccine, did not get the message.

A caller, who wished to remain anonymous, told KVEO, “If they don’t have a voucher, they don’t know they’re going to be turned away… it’s very disappointing, because this is not helping.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: COVID-19 vaccination distribution in the RGV

The Cameron County COVID-19 Hotline is designed to help take questions but when we called, the number was not working. We noticed the website did not reflect Brownsville’s voucher announcement.

The vouchers were for a Friday vaccine clinic. In order to qualify for the vaccine voucher, you must meet one of the following requirements: 65 years or older or 18 years or older with an underlying health condition. However, Cameron County Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator confirmed the voucher system is based on the honor system and the county can’t verify a person’s condition.

Hidalgo County Judge tests positive for COVID-19

Hidalgo County has troubles of its own. Hidalgo County health officials, in conjunction with Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, announced they would host a community COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 and Thursday, Jan. 14.

This clinic did not have vouchers but did have tickets. An upset caller told us, “We got to the site and were told by police at the entrance to go away.”

The caller was confused because they were not told a ticket was needed. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez confirmed county officials were unaware the district and the city had planned to give out tickets the day before and was a requirement to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination at PSJA.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution at PSJA causes confusion over “tickets”

KVEO reached out to PSJA ISD for comment and they provided the following statement:

We apologize for any confusion. Tickets for Day 1 of the clinic were provided to individuals who came one day prior to us opening the vaccine clinic. To prevent a high number of people staying over night, they were given tickets to secure their opportunity for vaccination.

The confusion in both counties is likely not over because they are at the mercy of state and federal agencies.

KVEO previously reported “The CDC determines how many doses of vaccine Texas will receive each week, based on population. Once the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is notified of the number of doses expected the following week, DSHS staff presents possibilities for vaccine distribution to the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP). The panel makes modifications and recommendations to the Commissioner of Health, who makes the final decision on that week’s distribution.”

Hidalgo County’s Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez admits the first come, first serve option has problems.

“Is it the best thing? No. Are there better methods? Probably,” said Olivarez.

One of those better methods is online registration. Olivarez confirmed the county is working on solutions for a smooth rollout.

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