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Midland Hospital Sending Additional Vaccine Doses After Scheduling Confusion Muddles Marfa Event

Earlier this week, Hundreds of West Texans received coronavirus vaccine doses during one-day clinics in Fort Davis and Marfa.

The clinics were some of the largest single-day vaccination efforts so far in the Big Bend. And while it was a big step forward in the regional vaccine rollout, the event in Marfa ran into some issues — dozens of residents who had made appointments weren't vaccinated.

By Carlos Morales

On Tuesday morning, Marfa residents and others from across the Big Bend lined up at the USO building to receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

But as the single-day vaccination clinic went on, dozens of patients with scheduled appointments were turned away when the clinic ran out of doses.

The event, led by medical professionals from Midland Memorial Hospital, had planned to administer the vaccine at a rate of eight people every five minutes. But Presidio County Emergency Coordinator Gary Mitschke said the Midland team was able to get residents through the vaccination process faster than they had planned for.

"The teams that came down are very efficient, and they were able to do a lot more in that timeframe," said Mitschke "They, as a matter of fact, could do three times that many people." 

As vaccinations picked up speed, the wait time between patients with scheduled appointments began to widen, and local officials said the Midland crew asked to contact residents to come in earlier. That's when Mitschke sent out an automated, reverse-911 call for residents to come to the USO building sooner.

Staff also tried calling people with appointments directly, but some just didn’t answer. The call, according to city officials, may have also caused confusion, leading locals to believe there were additional doses.

At the same time, Valerie Breavart, business manager at Marfa Country Clinic said the Midland team began "handing registration papers to everyone who was standing" outside the USO Building, whether or not they were part of state-designated priority groups under the 1B designation, which includes the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.

"We had been instructed by [the hospital] all week long to handle this event a specific way and to really schedule only 1B people and to be very tight in our schedule and to be very organized," said Breavart, who, along with a number of volunteers, handled scheduling for the event.

"I think we very, very much delivered on that. Only to find them in the end completely opened the floodgates to anyone who wanted to walk in," she continued.

Some 50 patients with scheduled appointments were turned away when vaccines ran out by the early afternoon. They were mainly Marfa residents, but also some from as far away as Presidio, Terlingua, and out near Big Bend Ranch State Park.

"We had worked for weeks scheduling people for specific appointment times," recalled John Paul Schwartz, Presidio County Health Authority. "I had people that drove from miles away to get those. And they just threw it out the window, gave it to everybody and left. And that is absolutely unacceptable."

A spokesperson for the hospital said as "a direct result of miscommunication between our team and local officials, depletion of the vaccine occurred before several patients with appointments could be vaccinated."

The hospital is now providing an additional 60 doses to cover the patients that were skipped Tuesday.

Staff with the clinic say they’ll be administering those vaccines throughout the day on Friday, Feb. 12. Midland Memorial Hospital's team of vaccinators will return in early March to administer the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Although frustrated, local officials said Tuesday's event was a pivotal step in providing vaccinations to the region.

"We did the best we could to make that happen," said Mitschke. "But it's not like X number of vaccines were wasted. Citizens of Marfa, Presidio County did get vaccinated. And ultimately, every citizen is going to get vaccinated. That's the goal."

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.