County judge: Rural vaccine allocation ‘extremely disappointing’


Hospital only given 1,100 doses by state so far


Frustration is mounting among Hopkins County officials and residents as the COVID-19 vaccine allocation to rural counties has seemed to slow to a trickle, a situation that has county judge Robert Newsom “very concerned.”

“We had been promised they [the state] were distributing per county, per capita,” Newsom said. “That was very clear from the word go, and I have never heard anything different from that.”

According to Department of State Health Services vaccine allocations, the hospital and its associated clinic have been given 1,100 doses total since December, but the last allocation came the week of Jan. 18. According to CHRISTUS Mother Frances  - Sulphur Springs CEO Paul Harvey, the hospital applied for 1,000 doses every week since then and received none. This week, only Brookshire’s and Walgreens have been allocated vaccines.

“It’s very frustrating,” Harvey said. “But we’re trying to do the best we can in working with our local emergency management system, [state] senator [Bob] Hall’s office and [state] representative [Bryan] Slaton’s office.”

The hospital has given out about 2,300 doses across the 1A group (first responders and healthcare workers) and the 1B group (people over 65 or people over 16 with a chronic condition). The CHRISTUS Mother Frances system, based in Tyler, has been sending vaccines to its smaller branches, Harvey said, and those doses are not counted in the state allocations.

“We’re working throughout Northeast Texas with CHRISTUS,” Harvey said. “Out goal is not to waste a single dose. Every single dose that we receive, we give it out that week within the guidelines.”

According to Harvey, the 1A group has reached a good “saturation point,” but more people in the 1B group need to be vaccinated. Carriage House residents and employees have been fully vaccinated, Harvey said, but other nursing homes have their own vaccination systems in place.

According to Harvey, the hospital and the county are working on being designated a rural vaccine hub since the hospital serves not only Hopkins but Rains, Franklins and Delta counties as well. However, the progress is slow-going, even with the support of Hall and Slaton. The closest hub to Hopkins County is in Paris or in Bonham, about 30 or more miles away.

“People can’t even drive to Paris if Paris gets that designation,” Harvey said. “That’s going to be hard on our residents to drive 40, 45 minutes north of here to that hub.”

Harvey said nearby hubs “should not impact” the amount of doses received by Hopkins County.

However, it’s not just Hopkins County facing an allocation problem. Marion County, which has a population of about 10,000, has received no vaccines from the state, according to the DSHS. Several small counties in the High Plains are not receiving vaccines as well. Sulphur Springs Police Department Chief Jason Ricketson, who sits on statewide meetings, said the “frustration is statewide,” something Newsom echoed.

“I don’t know what has happened unless they have decided to change the entire system,” Newsom said. “Right now, it’s extremely disappointing. I have people calling my office to know more.”

As for who is responsible for the shortfall, be it the state or federal government, Hopkins County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Endsley said that is the “million dollar question.” 

However, even with vaccines trickling in, there are efforts to help.

Ark-Tex Council of Governments established a phone line to assist those without reliable internet access or who do not know how to access the internet. The number is 1-800-372-4464, and appointments will be set up in the caller’s locality.

When asked if the local health authority could request doses separately, Endsley said the matter would be examined in reaching out to elected state officials.

For their constituents, Hall and Slaton are working to contact Austin officials to speed the allocation of vaccines, according to Endsley and Newsom.