McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A day before the Biden administration and Texas governor announced plans on Wednesday for three massive vaccination sites in North and East Texas, six Democratic lawmakers representing South Texas border communities asked state health officials to send more vaccines to their “left behind” region.
U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar, both D-Texas, State Sens. Judith Zaffirini, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and State Reps. Tracy King and Ryan Guillen on Tuesday sent a letter to Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, urging a review and approval for a multi-county COVID-19 vaccine hub to be established for residents in rural Brooks, Duval, Jim Hogg and Zapata counties.
“These counties have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “It’s my hope DSHS leaders will consider and approve these plans as quickly as possible to get vaccines in the arms of our most vulnerable and those who have been impacted the most. This joint county vaccination hub will be an efficient and effective vaccine provider to folks in these communities.”
“The demands are much higher than the supply,” Hinojosa told Border Report on Wednesday afternoon. “Every region is searching for more. But the rural areas obviously feel isolated.”
In the two months that vaccine doses have been available these counties have received only 2,000 doses for the 40,000 residents in the region, they wrote in the letter.
Hinojosa said that the four rural counties have received the following doses so far:
- Jim Hogg County with 3,611 residents has received 200 doses, which is 18.5% of the population.
- Zapata County with 9,491 residents has received 700 doses, which is 10.6% of the population.
- Bush County with 5,143 residents has received 800 doses, which is 13.9% of the population.
- Duval County with 8,928 residents has received 600 doses, which is 14.6% of the population.
“What we’d like to see is a hub for those four counties, which we believe would be much more efficient,” Hinojosa said. We are “just making sure we are not forgotten.”
“Many residents report feeling left behind because they live in rural communities,” read the letter. “To ensure these rural South Texans are vaccinated, we urge you to approve the proposed plan and designate this combined effort as an approved COVID-19 vaccine hub provider as soon as possible.”
The proposal includes plans to have as many as six vaccine distribution sites throughout the four counties, leveraging nearly 200 volunteers to administer 5,000 vaccines per week. Vaccine storage and handling would be managed and supported by DSHS Public Health Region (PHR) 11 staff based in the Zapata field office, according to the letter.
Their proposal was sent just hours before the Biden administration announced that they are partnering with the State of Texas to open three new mass vaccination sites that will be able to give a total of 10,000 doses per day. These sites will open Feb. 22 in Dallas, Arlington and Houston.
Roughly 33 million out of some 331 million Americans have received at least their first dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 9.8 million of those people have already gotten their second shot.
Texas, however, ranks 49th in vaccine distribution, which officials with the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday blamed on Gov. Greg “Abbott’s inability to advocate for Texas, with underserved communities getting less of the vaccines distributed compared to their affluent counterparts.”