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Hospital staff “scramble to find three hundred” recipients
Long-expected relief from the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Frio County on Wednesday afternoon, December 23, in the form of small boxes containing hundreds of vaccines, delivered by express courier.
The Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 came to Pearsall with enough supply to give the first of two doses to five hundred frontline healthcare workers, emergency responders and law enforcement officers, including vital personnel at Frio Regional Hospital and other clinics.
Two hundred doses of the vaccine were delivered to the hospital Wednesday and a further two hundred doses to the Family Medicine Clinic of Dr. Oscar Garza on Medical Drive in Pearsall.
One hundred more doses were then delivered to the FRH Urgent & Primary Care Clinic on FM 117 in Dilley.
Firefighters and medics from Frio and La Salle counties, law enforcement officers and locally stationed Methodist AirCare helicopter crews were invited to receive their first doses in Pearsall on Wednesday. Frontline healthcare workers, hospital and clinic staff were given priority, as mandated by the state health agency.
Dr. Garza’s clinic staff reported on Tuesday this week that they were still giving vaccinations, having not used all of their supply last week. A clinic representative said invitations to be vaccinated had been extended to the Pearsall Police Department and the Frio County Sheriff’s Office.
Before last Wednesday morning, none of the facilities that ultimately received boxes of the vaccine were aware when they would arrive, and Frio Regional Hospital staff were notified by the carrier on the day of the delivery that their boxes would arrive in the afternoon. The delivery came some five hours earlier than expected. The first shots were administered at 2:30 p.m.
Out of the 300 vaccines available through Frio Regional Hospital across the county, only 50 were administered to civilians, non-frontline workers who still met a number of state-mandated criteria such as advanced age or underlying health issues, according to the hospital administration this week, and a number of leftover vaccines were offered to members of the hospital board.
“We had to scramble to find three hundred people to give the vaccines to,” Frio Regional Hospital CEO John Hughson said of Wednesday’s events. “Once we had opened a bottle of ten doses, it had to be used. We were scheduling people ten at a time, but if someone didn’t show up or was late, we got on the phone and started calling for more people.”
Facilities in the region that did not receive any vaccines during the first round of distribution last week included hospitals in Hondo, Carrizo Springs and Kenedy.
“We made the vaccine available to all frontline workers first, and that includes all of the healthcare staff here, emergency responders and law enforcement in both counties,” Hughson said Monday. “Each vial contained ten doses. If we didn’t have ten people in line right there and then, or if people failed to come in at their allotted time, we had to give the vaccine to the next person. We could not let any go to waste.”
Hughson describes a recent message from the Texas Department of State Health Services as containing “very explicit guidance.”
“’Use it, use it, use it,’ was the message from the state,” Hughson said. “In essence, what the state was telling us was not to let any vaccines sit on the shelf, to distribute them promptly, regardless of any inconvenience due to the Christmas holiday.”
The deliveries to Frio County came just four days after the US Food & Drug Administration gave its emergency use authorization for the distribution.
“We didn’t have a month to plan this, how we would put this plan into action,” Hughson said. “When there were still vaccines available, and when there were no more frontline workers waiting, we just had to start going down the call list, and it needed to be people who we knew would show up at short notice.”
The vaccine was developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health and distributed by McKesson Corporation. To be effective, two doses of the drug must be given several weeks apart, and the doses must be from the same manufacturer.
“We are grateful to be one of the first hospitals to receive the vaccine,” Hughson said last week. “We must take any step necessary to ensure and protect the health and safety of our valued employees that are in the direct path of this virus every day. They are real-life superheroes working to care for our patients many times before taking care of themselves.”
The hospital reported after the delivery that the Moderna vaccine is easier to distribute “due to its ability to sit on a counter for extended periods of time, such as during distribution, and doses are available in increments of up to 200.”
Other vaccines, such as the one made by the Pfizer Corporation, require incremental allotments of 975 doses and extended ultra-cold storage, meaning colder than temperatures in Antarctica, where atoms are frozen to a near standstill.
Frio County has no facilities for ultra-cold storage of the Pfizer vaccines, according to hospital staff.
According to an established priority list for vaccines at Frio Regional Hospital, residents of nursing homes and those considered at high risk of serious illness or death from the coronavirus will receive their shots in the next round of vaccines. Further deliveries are expected during the first two weeks of January.