Caldwell County judge questions rural representation on state’s vaccine allocation panel

Texas coronavirus vaccine

CALDWELL COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — As the state continues allocating COVID-19 vaccines to hubs and other providers, rural communities want to make sure they’re not left behind.

The Texas Department of State and Health Services (DSHS) said it is working to make the COVID-19 vaccine allocation process equitable. Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden questions whether this is good enough for smaller counties. That’s why he’s fighting for their voices to be heard. 

Every dose is precious, and carefully allocated — still on a very limited supply.

“Per capita, we have a problem here, and as the chief emergency manager coordinator, I cannot just ignore that,” Haden said. 

Haden wants to make sure the state’s COVID-19 vaccine allocation panel is shipping doses based on infections and deaths per capita, not just population.

“It’s been my experience, that if you’re out there crying alone, no one is going to listen to you,” Haden said. “But if there are 40 of you, saying, ‘We’re all having the same issues,’ that might get some attention.”

Haden is forming a rural judges coalition to advocate for rural areas. DSHS said its panel is diverse with rural representatives.

“We’ve got West Texas, East Texas,” DSHS media relations director Chris Van Deusen said. “Amarillo is on there, the valley is on there, and points in between.”

Haden said rural counties in those areas are bigger than his and some others. He argues there’s a disconnect when it comes to the smaller rural counties’ concerns. 

Van Deusen said panel members were appointed by the state’s health commissioner, Dr. John Hellerstedt.

“The idea is to advise him on prioritizing populations to be vaccinated, giving direction on distributing vaccines across the state and making sure it’s done equitably,” Van Deusen said. 

There are other rural counties like Blanco that don’t have hubs. Van Deusen said providers in the area are still getting doses, though not in large quantities.

“There simply isn’t enough vaccine,” Van Deusen said. “We want more, we’re always asking for more. We want to make sure that we’re still allocating to rural hospitals, and smaller areas as well in rural towns.”

The demand is outpacing the supply, something understood by Haden, but frustrating as his neighbors die.

“We’ve done what the state has asked us to do,” Haden said. “All we’re asking in return is to be treated like the rest of the counties.”

DSHS said it is looking at the allocation process and tweaking as it sees fit.

According to the state, it does have an area of focus each week, based on which communities and populations need larger quantities of vaccine doses. DSHS said it does continue to try to expand its reach.

 The state said another vaccine by Johnson & Johnson could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration soon, helping DSHS catch up with the demand.

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