Willacy County awaits first vaccine shipment

RAYMONDVILLE — A week after his vaccination, Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora is waiting for most of his officers to take the vaccine to protect them against the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, health officials here were awaiting Willacy County’s first shipment of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said Tuesday.

“We’re on the list to receive the medication,” Torres said. “Exactly when it gets here depends on when it’s shipped by the manufacturer.”

On Dec. 30, Zamora and six of his officers drove to Harlingen Medical Center to take their vaccines.

But most of his staff declined vaccination, he said.

“They’re kind of scared of the side effects so they are waiting a little longer,” Zamora said Tuesday.

At City Hall, City Manager Eleazar Garcia said he expects the remainder of the police department’s staff to become vaccinated.

“More people will take the vaccine as time goes by,” Garcia said. “It’ll be more the norm.”

Zamora said five members of his staff who took the vaccine complained of side effects.

“They complained of nausea, aching muscles and bones, headaches — nothing major,” said Zamora, who added he didn’t feel side effects. “Within a couple of hours, it’s OK.”

On Jan. 27, he and his six staffers expect to take the vaccine’s second round, Zamora said, referring to the second and final shot.

As the nation rolls out the coronavirus vaccine, government health officials have placed first responders such as police officers near the top of the list of those first scheduled to become vaccinated.

“You can only hope everyone takes it,” Zamora said, referring to officers who routinely respond to scenes in which suspects might be infected by COVID-19. “You’re a lot more comfortable — we’re first responders on the front line.”

County officials await first shipment

In this rural county of about 22,000 residents, state health officials Tuesday were planning to distribute the region’s first shipment of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine — about three weeks after Cameron County received its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in deep freezers.

Now, officials are planning to distribute 100 doses to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs a state jail here, and 100 doses to the local state health department office, Torres said.

As part of the vaccine’s national distribution program, officials have set health care workers and first responders on top of the list of those scheduled to become the first to receive the vaccine.

“It’s going to be 100-percent directed to fire, police, nurses, doctors and nursing homes,” Torres said, adding the program has scheduled the general public to receive the vaccine around March.

At the Raymondville school district, Deputy Superintendent Ben Clinton said he’s offering to turn the district’s buildings into vaccination centers.

“We’re talking to the Department of Health Services to be a part of it,” he said. “We want to see how we can help — if we can use our facilities, if we can be a distribution center.”

Health care workers, first responders top list

So far, groups of Willacy County health care workers and first responders have driven to Harlingen hospitals to get their vaccines.

“Although Willacy County has not received the vaccine, people in Willacy County are still getting vaccinated,” Torres said.

About a week after Valley Baptist Medical Center, which has served as a distribution hub, received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17, Torres, who serves as executive director of the county’s Emergency Management Services, and his crew took their shots at the hospital.

“Our entire EMS crew has been vaccinated and we’ve started to do other medical professionals and first responders,” he said, referring to the local vaccination program.

At Retama Manor Nursing Center, Administrator Joe Longoria said his staff will be among the first to receive vaccinations here.

“I feel a great sense of relief,” Longoria said. “We have many of the most vulnerable in our community.”

Across the country, health care workers have carried COVID-19 into nursing homes, infecting residents.

“By protecting ourselves, we’re protecting them,” Longoria said, referring to the nursing home’s residents. “I believe the vaccine is an added layer of protection. It’s not going to be a COVID buster but it will go a long way to relieve the problem as more people become vaccinated.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com