Update: This story has been corrected to reflect corrected procedures for the vaccination clinic, as well as Cerena Michalec's title, and the names of forms. The Inquirer apologizes for any confusion caused by these errors.
Local officials are working on plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine to “everyone who wants it” once more doses become available to Gonzales County providers.
Officials from county municipalities, Gonzales Healthcare Systems and law enforcement were present at the Commissioners Court meeting on Jan. 11, to discuss a countywide vaccine distribution plan.
The idea, as described by multiple officials, would be to host a vaccination clinic at J.B. Wells for eligible candidates.
There’s just one problem: the county hasn’t been allocated enough vaccines to do that, and it’s not clear when that might happen.
“Our hands are sort of tied right now by the state, but we wanted to have a plan in place,” Gonzales Healthcare Systems CEO Patty Stewart said. “We reached out to the Judge, to Jimmy, to the Mayor, to Eddie at the EMS so that we could all work together so that when we do get a large amount, then we can have that drive-thru.”
Gonzales Healthcare Systems Emergency Safety and Preparedness Coordinator Cerena Michalec presented plans for a vaccine distribution clinic, which showed a walk-in U-shaped system putting up to 40 patients through per hour.
Paperwork, such as vaccination consent release and ImmTrack forms, would be available ahead of time at the Gonzales County Tax Office, Gonzales County Courthouse, and City of Gonzales Municipal Building, as well as the Gonzales Healthcare Systems and county websites. A medical history form will be filled out on-site. Both a call-in and web-based method of signing up for a vaccination were discussed, but nothing is sure as of yet.
“We’re hoping to have the disaster consent (form) already out into the public when we start this so they can have them filled out and bring them with them to save some time,” Michalec said.
It’s not yet clear how the clinic will be staffed, although Stewart said local offices were stepping up to address that concern.
“It’s going to take us all, because we do not have the staff at the hospital, to keep the hospital going with nurses, and then pull people to take down to do the clinic,” Stewart said. “That’s why the Mayor and the Judge and EMS have been very gracious to say, ‘tell us what you need, we’ll get it.”
Stewart said the hospital is absorbing administration costs of the COVID-19 vaccine for those zthat were unfunded or uninsured, and that those who are insured are not expected to pay out-of-pocket for COVID-19 vaccines given in an environment like this clinic. Some providers may still charge a fee for the administration of vaccine, which can fall on insurance providers or uninsured patients.
The state is receiving 1 million vaccines in its last federal allotment and is trying to allocate them appropriately among its 30 million residents.
County Judge Patrick C. Davis said he has spoken to State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, who sits on the committee which decides how vaccines are distributed. He said that one of the biggest factors impacting Gonzales County’s allocation is its small size.
On Thursday, Jan. 7, the Texas DSHS announced that a majority of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses will be allocated to larger cities with providers who can inoculate 100,000 people or more. Gonzales Healthcare Systems and Sievers each received 100 more doses of the vaccine in the most recent allotment— but Stewart said they’d asked for 500 two weeks before, and 1000 the next.
Gonzales Mayor Connie Kacir said she has asked the state to provide more vaccines for the community, as it has a large population of those who are 65 and older or otherwise vulnerable. She said this same reason was used in a request for test kits, which the state granted.
“I have reached out to the state and I’m asking to have additional vaccine prioritized for Gonzales based on demographics that I put together, that I feel we are more vulnerable than some of the other counties,” Kacir said.
The issue at hand is convincing the state that the amount of vaccine being requested by local providers will be used quickly to inoculate those who are vulnerable. Michalec said she planned on sending a copy to the Department of State Health Services, with the consent and signatures of Judge Davis and Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Harless, to convince the state that the county wants to be a mass vaccination area.
In the meantime, Gonzales Healthcare Systems has issued a statement regarding progress of vaccinations in the area. It will focus on frontline workers in the Phase 1a category until it receives enough vaccine to move on to Phase 1b.
“At this time, Gonzales Healthcare Systems has received the Moderna vaccine, and those doses have been administered to persons listed in the Phase I vaccine guidelines put out by the State of Texas,” A statement from Gonzales Healthcare Services reads. “We have been working with frontline workers in our area to ensure that those persons are vaccinated first, so they can continue to care for our community.”