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Odessa Hospitals Left Off The State’s List For First Wave Of Coronavirus Vaccines

By Mitch Borden

The first wave of coronavirus vaccines will be distributed to hospitals across Texas beginning next week, but Odessa facilities won’t receive doses, despite shrinking hospital capacity and a high number of active cases. 

The news came as a surprise to local health officials who were left perplexed, because neither of the city’s two hospitals were slotted to get any of the 224,250 doses planned to be distributed across Texas beginning around Dec. 14. The reason for the omission was even more confusing, they said — miscommunication with the state agency tasked with distribution kept them off the receiving list.

On Tuesday, Russell Tippin, CEO of Odessa’s Medical Center Hospital, explained during a virtual coronavirus briefing the reason his facility along with Odessa Regional Medical Center wouldn’t get any vaccines in the initial distribution. 

The problem he said was with how the Texas Department of State Health Services had facilities register to receive the coronavirus vaccine. 

“DSHS told us today that there was a glitch in their system that kept Ector County off of that first wave list,” Tippin told reporters. “Just to be clear, this glitch was in the state system. Both hospitals did what they were instructed to do. In fact, both of us have confirmation emails that our registration was accepted.” 

A spokesperson later confirmed and clarified in an email to Marfa Public Radio that there was no “glitch” in the state’s system but rather a misunderstanding between the state and, at least, Medical Center Hospital. 

“There was a miscommunication that led to the hospital to think they had completed their enrollment as a vaccine provider when they still had a final step to complete,” explained Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for the agency.

When Texas hospitals submitted information to the state to qualify for the coronavirus vaccine distribution, a message was sent to facilities prior to the final step in the process. 

According to Tippin, this was misleading since the message did not clarify that facilities needed to provide signatures from their CEOs and Chief Medical Officers to complete the vaccine enrollment. 

The message, Tippin confirmed, was the reason behind Medical Center Hospital being kept off the state’s vaccination distribution list. Van Deusen said DSHS is modifying the agency’s messaging to clarify that more information is needed from facilities to receive vaccines.  

Both Odessa hospitals expect to get a batch of coronavirus vaccines from DSHS later in December. 

Currently, officials do not know the number of vaccines that will be sent to the community. Frontline healthcare workers will be prioritized to receive immunizations. 

The state has not clarified if other facilities outside of Odessa were not included in the first wave of vaccine distribution due to confusion surrounding their registration process.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.