More than 600 of Angelina County’s residents received the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 Friday at the Pitser Garrison Convention Center.
Residents receiving the vaccine were either over the age of 65 or have an immune system that was impaired or weakened.
The event was coordinated by the Angelina County & Cities Health District, Brookshire Brothers. both local hospitals and other community partners, health district administrator Sharon Shaw said.
Those granted an appointment arrived at the convention center and filled out paperwork in their vehicles or at socially distanced tables in and outside of the convention center. From there, those individuals confirmed that paperwork with staff before being vaccinated.
The vaccines were drawn moments before inoculation, rather than in advance, Shaw said.
“Vaccine integrity is of the utmost importance, so we have pharmacists here, we also have our immunization director,” she said.
After being vaccinated, the individuals were taken to another room to relax for between 15 and 30 minutes so health care professionals could make sure they had no adverse reaction.
Sitting in that room, 76,-year-old Ray Zoercher said he was thrilled to have received his initial dose. He wants the vaccine because he doesn’t want to get sick and die, for one thing, he said.
“I am an intelligent person and I think that if you don’t understand this and you don’t want this, then I think you’re missing a little something upstairs,” he said. “This is something that’s very important. 4,000 people died yesterday, just yesterday.”
Zoercher said those who won’t get it are falling for a stupid political ploy or are just ignorant.
He said he’s watch his 66-year-old nephew fight the virus twice in the hospital so far, and he’s now facing permanent issues with his heart and respiratory system, he said.
“It is all related to COVID,” Zoercher said. “I hear all of this stuff all of the time, and people dying. So why take a chance?”
He didn’t even realize he’d received the vaccine, he said. After waiting a few moments he turned to the nurse who was supposed to be administering the vaccination and asked if it was in and she’d already finished. He’d already been sitting for a few minutes with the vaccination and felt normal, he said.
Ann Watson and Paula Botsford, registered nurses and public educators with the health district, were busy vaccinating people as they came in. Both women believe the vaccine is vital to letting the community move forward.
“I think people are very much interested in having the vaccine,” Botsford said.
They want to avoid the virus because of the devastation it has wreaked across the world, she said. Patients were happy to be there, she said.
Both women recommended those who are nervous about the vaccine to get their own information — to do their own research and learn from reputable sources about the vaccine.
“This has been authorized for emergency use and we feel very confident about its effectiveness, 95% effective,” Botsford said. “So many people are suffering in our community. And this is just going to be a way for them to avoid the virus.”
Watson emphasized the importance of these individuals returning on Feb. 5 for their second dose.
The Moderna vaccine requires two shots, 28 days apart, according to the CDC. Shaw anticipates the community will receive enough doses at that time to administer the second dose to the hundreds who received the first dose on Friday, she said.
Zoercher complimented the work by organizers to make the process move smoothly and comfortably for those who are getting vaccinated.
The event was done to test a staging system that would allow organizers to deliver mass vaccinations, Shaw said. The event went smoothly, Shaw and other staffers said.
“Our anticipation is that we will be doing this as often as we have bulk vaccines,” Shaw said. “It may be every week, every two weeks. There is no guarantee for vaccines.”
This setup is not uncommon for the health district, which is required to have drills annually in this exact manner, Shaw said. The difference is that in this case they have live people receiving a muchneeded vaccine in the middle of a pandemic.
Vaccines have been arriving in the county in spurts, Shaw said. While they received some this week and last, they will not receive any next week, she said.
The initial vaccines went to the health care teams at both hospitals who both have several thousand employees, she said.
Brookshire Brothers also was among the first organizations in the region to receive vaccines, and people interested in receiving it began calling Brookshire Brothers en masse, Laura Edmundson, the company’s pharmacy district director, said.
“The demand is so great and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said. “We have more COVID-19 cases right now than we’ve had ever — more people in the hospital. So it’s just crucial that we get the vaccine out to everyone that’s eligible and wants it as quickly as possible just so we can help save lives.”
Staff compiled a list of those who called and qualified for inoculation under the state’s guidelines, she said.
And in a coordinated effort across the county, “leftover doses” were compiled to be used to inoculate as many eligible people as they could, Shaw said.
“Brookshire Brothers … got an allocation, they were doing physicians offices, and logistically it was hard for small pharmacies within grocery stores to do something fast enough,” she said.
The coordination between the different parties worked well, and quickly, Edmundson said. They were able to put together staff and a distribution plan that went out smoothly.
Brookshire Brothers and the health district plan to continue setting up similar events and to create a platform to accept vaccination requests. Both said they will make the information public as soon as it is ready.
“We are getting ready to launch our electronic wait list, to where we can direct people to our website and they can go fill out their information and be added to a wait list there,’’ Edmundson said.
Botsford said she believes if the community can get between 75% and 80% of the population inoculated that life will return to normal.
“This is going to be a changer for our culture,” she said.