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With Two Locations For Mass Vaccinations, How's The COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout In The Permian?

At Ratliff Stadium in Odessa, where Medical Center Hospital is holding a large-scale vaccination clinic, hundreds of West Texans line up to receive their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

By Mitch Borden

This week, Odessa's Medical Center Hospital and Midland Memorial Hospital the two largest healthcare facilities in the Permian Basin began holding two large-scale vaccination clinics, which have seen a few thousand West Texans so far get coronavirus vaccines.

Here's an update on vaccination efforts in West Texas

Ari Snider: The preparation for the clinics has been going on for weeks. How did this all came together?

Mitch Borden: It's taken a lot of work in both Midland and Odessa. Thousands of people have been getting vaccinated since Sunday when Medical Center Hospital fully opened up its drive-thru vaccination clinic at 9 a.m., which is at Ratliff stadium. 

There was a massive turnout for the first day and the hospital staff, local volunteers, city police and firefighters helped the clinic surpass its expectations for its first day.

AS: Could you go into a little more detail on how the turnout was at the clinic run by Medical Center?

MB: The hospital was aiming to give out around 1,000 shots on Sunday, and on a daily basis after that. But on their opening day, Medical Center Hospital actually vaccinated over 1,800 people and has been keeping up a pace of vaccinating around 1,500 people a day since. 

I was told cars were lined up for miles and people arrived very early over the weekend. Since then, things have been moving fast. And, as of Wednesday, Medical Center had vaccinated over 6,000 individuals in less than a week.

AS: This is something we've talked about in the past. But just to be clear, who exactly qualifies for a vaccine right now?

MB: Across the state, only frontline workers, people who are 65 years and older, or individuals who have underlying conditions like cancer, type two diabetes and sickle cell disease are officially eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The two hospitals, Medical Center and Midland Memorial, are giving vaccines to anyone from West Texas, and across the state, who fall into these categories. 

But I do need to put an asterisk here because it's turning out that the hospitals may be giving vaccines out to people other than those who qualify.

AS: Could you go into that a little bit more?

MB: So officials with both Midland and Odessa's mass vaccination clinics are very clear that they're dedicated to following the state's guidelines on the vaccination rollout. That means giving it to frontline workers, people who are older and individuals who have underlying conditions.

But both Midland Memorial and Medical Center hospital are basically relying on the honor system. They aren't really verifying whether individuals are frontline workers or if they have underlying conditions.

At Odessa's mass vaccination clinic, since it's a drive-thru and no appointments are needed, things are a little looser there. Officials decided to administer the vaccine to anyone who is in the vehicle whether they currently qualify for the vaccine, or not. 

AS: So people can get a vaccine in Odessa, even if they aren't qualified under the state's rollout plan right now? 

MB: Yeah, this is what Russell Tippin, the CEO of Medical Center, said earlier this week to the press.

Russell Tippin: “When we have people in line that aren't in 1A or 1B we inject those people too. But we work really hard to try to stick with the [state's] guidelines.”

MB: Just to clarify, 1A and 1B are the names the state has given the vaccination groups currently eligible to receive a vaccine.

To be clear though, Medical Center isn't encouraging people to come through its vaccination clinic who aren't currently authorized by the state to get vaccinated, but they aren't verifying if you're qualified or not. And have already vaccinated individuals outside of the state's current rollout plan. 

AS: How are things going at the vaccination clinic run by Midland Memorial Hospital? That one got started on Monday, right?

MB: Things are going a little bit slower over in Midland. But that's not a complete surprise. They are pre-registering thousands of people and setting up appointments for everyone to get their shots at the clinic, which is currently located at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena. 

Middle Memorial didn't actually reach its goal on Monday of 1,000 vaccines in one day; instead giving out close to 860 vaccines.

At the end of the day on Tuesday, Midland Memorial distributed just under 2,100 doses of the vaccine, which also includes vaccinations done during the clinic's limited soft-opening.

AS: Was there anything in particular that held up the flow of Midland's vaccination clinic?

MB: It turns out a lot of people didn't show up for their appointments. Here's what Midland Memorial CEO Russell Meyers told the press earlier this week.

Russell Meyers: “We had a large volume of no shows. We had a waiting list of people we were able to call in at the last minute but we are particularly concerned about the no-show volumes at the site.”

MB: Since Midland memorial is relying on people to make and keep appointments, it's really hard for them to compensate for individuals canceling last minute or just not showing up. 

So the hospital is asking for people to cancel or reschedule their appointments as soon as they can, because there are plenty of people who could take their spot if the hospital had notice.

Midland Memorial has so far scheduled around 7,000 people for appointments in the coming weeks to get vaccinated, and they have a list of about 8,000 people from all over West Texas who are waiting to get a vaccine.

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