Rural Texas counties team up to help get community vaccinated

Some smaller Texas counties have yet to receive COVID-19 vaccines, even for their highest priority groups. 

Officials in those less populated counties are getting creative in order to help get their vulnerable populations vaccinated, but new information from the state may complicate their efforts. 

"Stay tuned, say a prayer," said Llano County Local Health Authority Dr. Jack Franklin. 



Weeks after receiving 100 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state, there's been no clear indication that more are on the way.  "Nothing yet. Having some hope that on the horizon, in the near future, we'll be getting vaccines," Franklin said. 

The situation is similar in San Saba and Mason counties, both of which were allocated a one-time shipment of 200 doses and nothing since. "They don't have a major hospital system in their county, they don't have a major pharmacy or anything like that. So they're also trying to get more vaccines," said Franklin.  

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Officials in the three counties put together a new plan which was sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Monday. 

"We call it the Tri-County hub. It's basically trying to team up with the players in San Saba and in Mason County... We've gotten quite a few volunteers and we think we have the ability to put on vaccine clinics, mass vaccination clinics, basically, in the three counties," Franklin said. 

If approved, the hub could provide vaccines to about 30,000 people. However, Thursday, the state released new information crushing their hopes at least for the time being. "We won’t be adding any hubs. We’re going to wait a week to see what the week-wide allocations look like," said Imelda Garcia, Texas DSHS associate commissioner.  

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Instead, the state's expert vaccine allocation panel will launch a mobile vaccine pilot program to reach rural areas. In the meantime, current hubs are required to share. "Anywhere you can get the vaccine, get the vaccine," said Franklin. 

"They have to offer that vaccine regardless of whether or not they are a resident of their county," Garcia said.  

Even in rural counties, like Bastrop, that have designated hubs, there have been struggles reaching the community. 

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"There's some people that don't have internet, don't have a cell phone, and we're having to call them on a landline. So that's taking a lot of volunteer support to get that done," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Bastrop County Local Health Authority.

Bastrop turned to nonprofits to help them move through their vaccine priority list. 

In Llano, they've found another way to link up with those without the web. "To sign up for our list, we put out several fliers stating if you didn't have a computer, didn't have the ability to sign up online, to go to the libraries," Franklin said.  

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Still, no matter where you live or how accessible vaccines are, there's one thing all doctors agree on. "Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and stay home if you're sick, because we're not out of this yet," said Walkes. 

Llano County authorities said even if they can eventually get the tri-county hub idea approved, they will not be able to offer the Pfizer vaccine because they do not have the ultra-cold freezers needed to store it. Instead, they will rely on the Moderna vaccine or other brands that get approval in the coming weeks.