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State Sends Texas National Guard To Vaccinate Older Texans In The Big Bend

This week, the state is sending Texas National Guard teams to rural and isolated corners of the state to vaccinate seniors. The effort, dubbed "Save Our Seniors," is part of the state's attempt to get more elderly Texans vaccinated, especially those who live in hard-to-reach areas.

By Carlos Morales

The vaccination teams are setting up in Terlingua on Wednesday at the J.W. “Red” Patillo South Brewster County Community Center. On Thursday, they’ll be in Marathon, at the community center there. At both locations the Guard will have only 100 doses of vaccine on hand, which are being reserved for residents 75 years and older. 

Both vaccination clinics will be first come, first served and will run from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., or until vaccines run out.

“Vaccinating our seniors is our main priority," said Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference last week. "The main goal that we have in the vaccination process right now is to obviously save lives and to reduce hospitalizations. Medically and mathematically, the best way to do that is to vaccinate our seniors as quickly as possible."

When Gov. Abbott outlined this effort late last week, he said 40% of Texans age 65 and older had so far received at least one dose of the vaccine, but he wanted to up that percentage to 50 by the end of this week. Beyond that, the Republican governor said he hopes to have all of the state’s willing seniors vaccinated by the end of the month. 

Outside of this week's deployment to Brewster County, it's unclear if the Texas National Guard will return to Far West Texas. Officials in Presidio County say it could happen, but as of this week there's been no formal announcement.

Apart from the Governor's "Save Our Seniors" initiative, which he announced less than a week before rescinding the state's mask mandate and allowing businesses to open fully, Guard members have been heading into rural Texas for weeks now.

Part of those deployments included Fort Davis, where 100 residents were vaccinated. Jeff Davis County Emergency Services Coordinator Larry Francell said the residents that received vaccines included employees at McDonald Observatory and local teachers.

Even as vaccination efforts slowly gain steam across the Big Bend, the majority of the region's population has yet to be vaccinated. Across the Big Bend region’s three counties — Brewster, Jeff Davis, Presidio — there are close to 15,000 residents that are at least 16 years old, according to state data.

Of that population, data from earlier this week shows that just about 13% of the entire Tri-County have been fully vaccinated. 

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.