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Laredoans Camp Out For A Chance At Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

Nurses prepare doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for Laredo's vaccine drive. Vaccines were made available to health care workers, the elderly and adults with underlying conditions.
Nurses prepare doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for Laredo's vaccine drive. Vaccines were made available to health care workers, first responders, the elderly and adults with underlying conditions.

When Jessica Yelderman saw a flyer online for Laredo’s COVID-19 drive-thru vaccinations, she decided to get there early — 13 hours early.

“I think we got here at about 8 o’clock last night,” she said Monday morning from her car near the front of a long line of people waiting for a dose of Moderna’s vaccine.

The City of Laredo, which has confronted overwhelmed hospitals for several weeks, held a three-day vaccine drive to distribute more than three thousand vaccines, beginning on Saturday for health care workers. On Sunday, the city opened it up for people 65 years and older and adults with chronic illnesses. Texas allows those with conditions 16 years and older to get vaccinated, but the Moderna vaccine is only authorized for people 18 and over.

The lines of cars quickly grew on Sunday. The traffic spilled over from a parking lot at Texas A&M International University to one of the city’s highways nearby.

By then, Yelderman and her husband, who have underlying health conditions, knew about the high demand, so they decided to camp out with their family for the last day of the drive.

“We didn’t want to take any chances that we would not get the vaccine because we knew how important it is,” Yelderman said.

Nurses and health care workers administer COVID-19 vaccines at Laredo's drive-thru distribution event on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
Nurses and health care workers administer COVID-19 vaccines at Laredo's drive-thru distribution event on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

The City of Laredo secured vaccines for the drive thanks to a donation from the Laredo Emergency Room, said Noraida Negron, the city’s public information officer. City officials said they distributed more than 3,500 vaccines at the event.

But with the limited supply, they had to turn away people like Paty Valero and her husband, who waited in line for about an hour on Sunday before being told they wouldn’t get a dose.

“My husband is 66 with underlying conditions, so, of course, we wanted him to get it as soon as possible,” she said. “I didn’t really think it was going to be a big line. I knew there was going to be a line, but not that huge.”

Health care providers and pharmacies must request and receive approval from the state to receive orders of vaccines. Other Laredo hospitals, standalone emergency rooms and local pharmacies also received vaccines, but Negron said the pharmacies are also running out.

“They don’t have anymore,” she said at the drive Monday morning. “The ones that do have will be the hospitals, but they are about to do their second round for their health care workers.”

Laredo officials addressed vaccine concerns Monday evening, explaining they received fewer doses than private providers and have been unable to coordinate with all of them.

“We’re the minority,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said. “When in fact people look to us… as to how things are being undertaken in our city.”

In response, Health Authority Victor Treviño issued a public health order requiring providers to report their daily inventories and distribution to help the city get a better grasp of vaccine availability.

Officials also said they are planning to collaborate with Laredo ER and “larger entities” to hold follow-up events for the second dose needed for the vaccine to be effective and to begin vaccinating more people who qualify under federal and state guidelines. They also encouraged people to check with providers listed by the state online.

“We’re seeing some monumental changes coming our way as we’re trying to prevent the collapse of our local health care system in making sure that we expeditiously vaccinate our community,” Health Authority Victor Treviño said.

Laredo has reported the highest hospitalization rate in the state for weeks now, with up to 41.5% of COVID-19 patients taking up staffed hospital beds, according to the city’s latest report. Treviño said they are still awaiting another spike from Christmas and New Years’ celebrations.

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