Rural Texas judges forming coalition for COVID vaccine
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
The COVID vaccine rollout has frustrated residents of Caldwell County. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) publishes a weekly spreadsheet saying how many vaccines each location is receiving. But finding a location actually giving them out is akin to winning the Powerball.
County Judge Hoppy Haden fields dozens of calls and emails per week from frustrated residents. He takes the time to respond to residents and has sent multiple letters to Texas Governor Greg Abbot and DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt asking for answers.
He never gets a response.
Judge Haden reached out to friend and fellow rural Judge Ron Cunnigham of Llano County to see if he had better luck. Judge Haden found that Llano County, with a population of just over 21,000, had not received a single dose of the vaccine yet.
Vaccine allocation in Texas is decided by the COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP), a group of 17 external and internal subject matter experts. They send their recommendation to Commissioner Hellerstedt, who approves who gets what. The manufacturer then direct-ships the vaccines to the approved locations.
While the panel is chock full of highly intelligent doctors and health experts, as well as politicians, Judge Haden and Judge Cunningham noticed one key thing missing.
“There are 171 rural counties, and we are not represented on that commission,” Judge Haden said in a Jan. 18 phone interview with LPR.
Frustrated with the lack of response to a critical issue, the pair decided to form the Rural County Judges Coalition. It will consist of the rural judges in Texas and hold its first meeting on Friday Jan. 22.
“Our first act is going to be to send a letter to Governor Abbot and Dr Hellerstedt stating that we are all very frustrated that we are not represented on the commission, and we are very frustrated that there are many counties that have not gotten a single vaccine,” Haden said. “We are going to very politely demand that we have representation on that commission.”
Haden noted there is a call every Tuesday with the Governor’s office and DSHS, but he said the call is more of a directive instead of a conversation on needs and issues of the rural communities.
“We are tired of that,” Haden said. “I think if we can get a bunch of us together that will carry a lot more weight than just individually calling and complaining about it.”
At the Jan. 12 Caldwell County Commissioners Court, Chief of Emergency Management Hector Rangel said DSHS visited Caldwell County the first week in January and worked to vaccinate 70 first responders, as well as some school nurses.
He noted he had approval from property owners for two future vaccine sites but had not received approval from the state.
“I’m just waiting on DSHS or whatever vaccine I can get my hands on to start vaccinating resident of Caldwell County,” Rangel said.