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How some Texas cities are operating mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and why others aren’t



TEXAS – Different regions across the state are taking their own approach to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, depending on how many doses they have received so far.

In the Panhandle, Amarillo’s vaccination clinic has been open to the public for almost a week now, where they’ve been able to vaccinate nearly 9,000 people.

“We started last week with a minimal line when it was just open for 1A, And when group 1B was added, we added serpentine lines throughout the facility,” Amarillo Civic Center general manager Sherman Bass said, explaining how the city has worked to adjust the clinic based on demand.

“We’re now getting to a point where we’re vaccinating 3,000 to 5,000 people a day,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson explained, adding it wouldn’t be possible without coordination through so many of the city’s departments.

“They were real organized, and it went pretty quick,” Amarillo resident Rudy Renteria said of his vaccination experience.

The clinic has been such a success that it’s being touted as an example by the governor.

But, there’s no statewide directive to make this happen everywhere.

Arlington and Houston are also operating large vaccination clinics. At Houston’s distribution center, appointments are already filled up for the rest of the month.

In other cities with mass vaccine distribution centers, there have been some road bumps. In Lubbock, there was an issue with the phone lines.

“We just could not get in,” Lubbock resident Jimmy Gomez explained. “And I think we tried about 175 times. Because I mean, listen, this is important for us to get it.”

And in the Rio Grande Valley, in Mercedes, the new clinic hit capacity by 6 a.m. Tuesday, having to turn people away by 8 a.m.

“This is the beginning of a long-term vaccination effort is going to be throughout the rest of this year,” Hidalgo County Health Director Eduardo Olivarez explained.

These clinics have plans to improve and expand.

Other areas of the state can’t even set a mass vaccine center up, because they have not yet received enough of the vaccine. For comparison, the City of Amarillo has received 10,000 doses, while the City of Austin has received 1,300. Austin area hospitals and pharmacies have also gotten thousand of doses of vaccine, but the city does not control how those vaccine doses are distributed.

Local officials in Central Texas are calling on the state to help with coordinating this rollout, adding it isn’t enough to solely rely on pharmacies and healthcare providers.

“That is dealing with a very bottlenecked methodology that we are witnessing firsthand right here right now,” Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra explained.

Amarillo attributes its success so far to experience and flexibility.

“We practice this every year when we do our city immunization… like flu clinics for our city staff,” Amarillo Public Health Director Casie Stoughton explained. “We also use this similar model when we gave H1N1 vaccine during the H1N1 pandemic.”

Stoughton added the operation has adjusted along the way to ensure as many people are able to get vaccinated as possible. That plan will continue until everyone receives their second dose.

“If a patient will go ahead and scan the QR code that’s on that V-safe paperwork, then it will send them alerts and and remind them when their next doses. But we will also have the ability to send reminder recall through the ImmTrac2 system. And so there’s multiple ways that patients will be reminded,” Stoughton said.