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‘I’ve been waiting a long time’: Texas vaccine program for homebound seniors reaches 70 counties

Texas

GIDDINGS, Texas (Nexstar) — Nearly 200,000 Texans received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. Patricia Albrecht was one of them.

“I don’t like shots, but that’s okay,” Albrecht, 71, said. “This is worth it.”

Her dose was administered in her kitchen in Manheim, Texas, about an hour east of Austin, as part of the statewide Save Our Seniors initiative. The program aims to vaccinate homebound seniors and older Texans unable to access vaccines.

“Didn’t hurt a bit,” she said with a sigh of relief after the needle left her arm. Her husband, daughter and brother all got shots too. Albrecht is the primary caregiver at home for her ailing brother.

“It’s important for him mostly, for us to be immunized as well,” she explained.

Injecting that needle was Technical Sergeant Andrew Barroso of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Medical Group. He and more than 50 other Airmen in his unit were in Lee County on Thursday to assist with the vaccination of older Texans.

“I got into health care just to help people,” he said. “I’ve been in health care my entire career, so this has been a great experience.”

Lee County officials identified seniors in the area who might need extra assistance or a home visit by setting up a call center staffed with volunteers and putting ads in the local paper. They also sent reverse 911 communications and relied on word of mouth through local churches, according to the county’s pandemic response coordinator.

“We’re a rural area, we don’t have that many doctors, that many medical personnel,” Lee County’s pandemic response coordinator, Frank Malinak III, said. Lee County’s population not quite reaching 20,000 people is one reason for its low vaccination rate, Malinak explained.

“It takes a team from the National Guard and cooperation with the State of Texas to come in and assist us in getting our most vulnerable population vaccinated,” he said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services coordinates the allocation for the program. According to press releases from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, 8,000 doses were allocated for the first week, 10,000 for the second week and 18,000 for the third week. The Texas Division of Emergency Management coordinates the dates for the administration of the shots, serving as a go-between for the local leaders and the military. So far they’ve reached 70 Texas counties.

“The greatest part about the military is our logistical and medical capabilities, and how we’re able to bring that to the field and go and help reduce the amount of COVID-19 out there by delivering the vaccines, working with our partner agencies, and getting the getting shots in arms,” Major Timothy Strotkamp, of the Texas Air National Guard’s Mobile Vaccination Team Two.

While the homebound visits bring comfort to the Texans on the receiving end of the vaccines, those visits can be time consuming.

Maj. Strotkamp said the homebound missions take approximately an hour (or sometimes less) to get one shot done, factoring in travel time and the 15-minute waiting period after the shot to check for adverse effects. The program also includes an option for local leaders to plan for a central location for seniors who can get out of the house to get shots.

“In a walk-up site such as this, we can get up to 60 people vaccinated in a single hour with a 10 man team,” Maj. Strotkamp said, while standing in the church gymnasium used for Lee County’s temporary clinic.

Some cities launched their own version of the “Save Our Seniors” initiative, which was modeled after the Corpus Christi Fire Department’s partnership with Meals on Wheels, according to Abbott. The statewide program targets communities without that infrastructure in place — typically rural areas of Texas.

State leaders use four main criteria to decide which counties to send the military teams. They look at how many providers there are in the area, taking into account the total vaccine allocations over the past three months. They look at which counties have the lowest vaccine rates for the senior population and factor in vaccine equity.

The tedious process means the world to the Texans who wouldn’t be able to get vaccinated otherwise.

“It’s a great relief,” Patricia Perry, 91, who is bedfast, said after receiving her first Moderna dose from her bed in her daughter’s Lexington, Texas home.

It also is meaningful for the military members.

“We’re making a difference,” Technical Sergeant Michelle Graczyk said. “It’s not one person, it’s all of us, and it just is breathtaking how much everyone works together — civilian and military. It’s one team.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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