Border COVID-19 hot spot getting first 6,800 vaccines by end of next week

Coronavirus

El Paso health workers first in line to get Pfizer-made inoculations; Juarez may not see vaccines until February

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso, which has been one of the country’s recent coronavirus hot spots, could get its first COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has approved an initial allotment of 6,800 COVID-19 vaccines to five El Paso hospitals, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said. Health workers at those facilities could be receiving the vaccines on or after Dec. 14, he said.

Another 156 local medical providers including more hospitals, community clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies would begin getting theirs in subsequent weeks, with dates pending final approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.

“While we look forward to this initial allocation and continue to work toward a safe and efficient vaccine distribution process to manage subsequent (shipments), we cannot ease up on our own personal behaviors,” Gonzalez said at a special City Council meeting this week. “The vaccine will not begin to make a difference in virus spread until it’s more readily available to the community at large, which is at least several months if not more from now.”

El Paso County in late October and early November reported record spikes in new infections and its currently tracking 37,921 active cases. With 38 additional deaths reported on Tuesday, the county has now recorded 1,057 fatalities since the pandemic began.

But Gonzalez said the number of new infections is going down. “Average daily new cases are one-fourth of what they were at the peak on Nov. 7. The positivity rate is following a similar trajectory. Hospitalizations have fallen by 20 percent,” he said.

Public Health Director Angela Mora said El Paso’s COVID-19 task force is holding weekly meetings with the 161 vaccine distributors to ensure they’re getting accurate information and have an adequate application system in place.

She said the providers are evenly distributed throughout the county, which will ensure proper community coverage once the vaccine is available in substantial amounts. As in the rest of the country, front-line healthcare workers will be the first to receive vaccines, with vulnerable populations being next in line.

“As we expected, the allocation for vaccines … is going to be very, very limited and the allocations to hospitals is based on information received by the providers and that includes the number of health workers and the storage capacity,” Mora said.

Both Mora and Gonzalez urged people not to stop wearing face masks, social-distancing or avoiding large gatherings just because the vaccine is on the way.

“It’s tempting to relax restrictions, but this is a marathon fight,” he said, adding that his own family hasn’t been immune to the toll that the coronavirus has taken in El Paso. Some of his relatives have survived COVID-19 infections while the virus has claimed family members on his wife’s side, he said.

Mexico outlines vaccine distribution plans

But while El Paso is days away from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, health workers across the border in Juarez, Mexico may not get theirs until February.

The Mexican government on Tuesday outlined its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans, with health workers in Mexico City and some in the hot spot of Coahuila state in line to get the first 250,000 doses at the end of December.

Health workers in the rest of Mexico will get theirs in January or February. After that, any health workers that may have missed one of the required two doses will receive subsequent inoculations, along with people over 60 years of age.

Mexico’s COVID-19 vaccination schedule. (graphic, State of Chihuahua)

Individuals under 60 won’t be eligible for vaccination until April, unless they have a high-risk comorbidity. People over 40 can get a vaccine in May or June, with everyone else being eligible after June.

Dr. Mirna Beltran

“We don’t have a tentative date for the vaccine to arrive in Chihuahua. I think in January more vaccines will arrive,” in Mexico, said Dr. Mirna Beltran, undersecretary of health for the state of Chihuahua, which includes Juarez. “I cannot say when we will see it (here). Let’s hope it’s before February.”

Juarez may have been hit harder by the pandemic than El Paso, but it’s difficult to know due to limited testing there. What is known is that the virus had claimed 2,234 lives as of Tuesday. Like in El Paso, most of the dead in Juarez suffered from diabetes, hypertension and were 50 or older.

And also on par with El Paso, new COVID-19 cases are trending down in Juarez in the past two weeks, and their hospital capacity has decreased from 100% early last month to 33% now.

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