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Permian Basin Hospitals Gear Up For Mass COVID-19 Vaccinations

By Mitch Borden

Both major hospitals in the Midland-Odessa area are beginning to receive thousands of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week. This positions the two cities to become the vaccination hubs not only for the Permian Basin but also for West Texas as a whole. 

Marfa Public Radio’s Ari Snider caught up with Permian Basin Reporter Mitch Borden to talk about mass vaccination efforts in the Midland-Odessa area. 

Below is an abridged version of the conversation between Marfa Public Radio’s Ari Snider and Permian Basin Reporter Mitch Borden. To listen to the full interview, click the audio player at the top of the page. 

Ari Snider: Before we get too far into what comes next, could you run through just who is eligible to get a vaccine right now?

Mitch Borden: Only people who fall into the 1A and 1B categories can get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

These categories include frontline and healthcare workers as well as individuals 65 years or older. And it also includes people who are 16 or older who have underlying conditions like cancer, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and type two diabetes. 

AS: Odessa's Medical Center Hospital got word recently that it would begin receiving close to 4,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on an ongoing basis. Then, this week, we learned that Midland Memorial Hospital expects it will begin receiving about 5,000 doses a week. 

This is obviously really big news, could you tell us a little bit more about these developments? 

MB: Both hospitals kicked into high gear and started getting everything together for what they'll need to begin hosting mass vaccination events once they got the news about all these vaccines coming into both communities. 

Both facilities are planning on holding trial runs of the vaccination clinics [on Friday] to work out any bugs in their system. Odessa will then hold its first mass vaccination clinic on Sunday [Jan. 24] beginning at 9 a.m. and going until 3 p.m. 

Midland's beginning its mass vaccination clinic on Monday [Jan. 25] and appointments will begin at 10 a.m. Both hospitals are planning to vaccinate people pretty much all next week. 

AS: Who can get these vaccines right now, and are they limited to residents of Midland and Odessa? 

MB: No, they aren't limited to the Midland-Odessa area. Both Midland Memorial and Medical Center have been clear that they intend to vaccinate people from all over West Texas, and possibly disperse vaccines across the region in the future.

AS: Could you go into detail about how Midland and Odessa officials plan to pull off these mass vaccination events? 

MB: Midland Memorial is holding its mass vaccination event at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena. Those with appointments will be notified ahead of time when they can go get a vaccine. [To pre-register for an appointment, click here.]

Medical Center hospital will hold its drive-thru vaccination clinic at Ratliff Stadium in Odessa. And these vaccines will be first come first serve. [To pre-register for the drive-thru vaccine clinic, click here.]

AS: How will Medical Center's vaccination event work if it's first come first serve? I imagine there's a lot of demand right now to get vaccinated. 

MB: Yeah, there is a lot of demand. Officials have been clear that this setup is all about getting as many people vaccinated as fast as possible. Basically, Medical Center Hospital will announce when these events will take place. And then individuals who qualify as 1A and 1B will show up to be vaccinated. No appointment is necessary. In that aspect, it's first come first serve. 

This distribution strategy will probably get vaccines in the arms of locals quickly, but it may make it difficult for people from across the region to get a vaccine at these events, at least for now. After all, you know, some people live pretty far away from Odessa.

They could take the long trip to the city and get in line at one of these events only to find out that Medical Center is out of vaccines or done vaccinating for the day. 

AS: Yeah, I mean, a lot of towns in the Big Bend region are at least three to four hours away from Odessa. So that might be difficult for residents to make it up to those events. 

What kind of options are left for West Texans who want to get vaccinated but don't want to risk getting turned away at one of these first come first serve events?

MB: When individuals in the 1A and 1B vaccination categories are pre-registered for a vaccine with Midland Memorial, the hospital will notify them via email or text when they can schedule an appointment. 

No one can just show up to Midland's vaccination events, at least right now, and get a vaccine. Practically speaking, having an appointment with Midland Memorial will make it much easier for some people who live in, say, Marfa or Pecos to plan out the hours-long trip to the Permian Basin, especially if a vaccine is reserved for them.

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