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At Midland Memorial Hospital, Officials See Steep Drop In Vaccine Demand, Despite Steady Supply

Hospitals across West Texas are continuing their efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible for COVID-19, but some regions are seeing the demand for vaccines level off and, in some cases, even decline.

In Midland, health officials are seeing a roughly 80% drop in demand for vaccines compared to a couple months ago.

Ari Snider: Midland Memorial Hospital, the city's primary hospital, has been pretty open about seeing a decline in vaccinations over the past few weeks. What is the general situation in Midland right now, and how dramatic has this decline actually been?

Mitch Borden: It's been a pretty steep decline. At the hospitals peak a few months ago, Midland Memorial was vaccinated about 1000 new people a day. Now the hospital is only seeing a fraction of that according to Russell Meyers, the hospital's CEO, I spoke to him earlier this week and this is what he had to say.  

Russell Meyers:  "We've gone from about 1,000 first doses a day to about 200. That's pretty straightforward, we're at about 20% of our peak demand for vaccine. You know, we had people scrambling to get in line wherever they could early on. That phenomenon is pretty much passed. You can get a vaccine today if you want one. It's a question of convincing you to want one now."

MB: Meyers told me the lack of demand has gotten so severe that his hospital has actually stopped ordering more shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state because they have a backlog of vaccines right now that should last about four weeks.

AS: That's such a stark change for how things were just a couple months ago. Did Meyers have any explanation for the fall in demand?

MB: Well, like anything there's probably a few factors working here, right? One, there are just more vaccines available across the state and communities across West Texas, originally Midland Memorial was the primary vaccine provider in the city, but now more and more pharmacies and medical providers are able to vaccinate individuals as the vaccine supply has grown. 

Like, you know, remember back in January, it was more of a scramble for healthcare providers to get enough vaccines to cover the elderly and frontline workers, but now, that's not the case in Texas.

So some people are probably heading to other places to get their shot, which could contribute to the drop Midland Memorial is seeing right now. Really, though, Meyers and staff suspect there is something else driving the steep drop. Basically, he believes that the majority of people who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine in Midland have probably gotten their shots. And those who haven't gotten their shots may be unsure if they want one or they may be totally against getting one. 

AS: That is interesting. So this, of course, is not just a problem in Midland. This is an issue that is beginning to become apparent across the whole country that you know, some people don't want to get a vaccine. Does Midland Memorial have any idea why people are uncertain or against getting the shot.

MB: Meyers has some suspicions. The hospital has released a survey to try and determine what is keeping individuals from getting the vaccine, especially when it's become so much easier to get one. The survey asks whether getting a vaccine conflicts with a person's political or religious beliefs. Whether a person is having trouble accessing the vaccine and medical care in general. And if people are worried about the side effects or whether the vaccine is safe at all. Hospital officials are also planning more conversations with community leaders about what may be keeping people from getting vaccinated and how the hospital can better reach certain populations.

AS: Is Midland Memorial trying to reach any specific demographic groups that may be skeptical the vaccine?

MB: Well, like I said, Midland Memorial is just beginning to investigate this, but there's a good amount of reporting from across the country recently looking at Evangelical Christians and they're leeriness towards getting the vaccine and Midland Memorial officials are paying attention to this reporting. Meyers doesn't know if this is the main issue in Midland, but he's been reading articles and wants to know more, and plans to meet with some religious leaders. 

After all, Midland is a very conservative, a very religious community, so this could have something to do with it for sure. But either way, Meyer says Midland Memorial and the community at large needs to get way more people vaccinated to safely return to some kind of normal after the past year, we've had especially as you know, more variants of COVID-19 in the Coronavirus begin to spread across the country,

RM: "Our ability to establish herd immunity and to protect the entire population against these variants is very dependent on many more of us getting vaccinated. So it's you know, it's not just for yourself, it's also for the people you care about and for your community. So get a vaccine."

MB: According to data released by the state as of Thursday, around 24% of individuals 16 and older in Midland County are fully vaccinated at this point. Meyer says that number is a little behind and it's probably closer to 35% of those who can get the vaccine are fully vaccinated which is a lot of people — but nowhere near enough. Midland Memorial is looking into more community outreach vaccination events and partnering with companies to vaccinate their employees.

AS: Now, before we wrap up here, I just want to zoom out for a moment the numbers of coronavirus cases have been dropping in West Texas as a whole. Is that the case in Midland as well?

MB: Yeah, in Midland, the number of people getting hospitalized for COVID-19 and just in general, the amount of coronavirus cases popping up have dropped a lot since last year. But recently there have been reports of some variants of COVID-19 being found in Odessa, which is only about 20 miles away from Midland. They're pretty much neighbors. So the fear is if more people do not get vaccinated more coronavirus spikes could take place as more people become less vigilant and stopping the spread of the virus and these variants spread more and more across Texas and the country.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.