After a “seamless” 20-minute process Saturday, Longview residents James and Sharon Bolls felt relief that they are being protected against the coronavirus, which has plagued the country and Gregg County for almost a year.

“This was so well organized,” 82-year-old James Bolls said as he sat in a waiting room for observation after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine.

“There was no waiting,” his wife Sharon, 77, added. “You’re just directed around, and by the time you get through the directions, you’re getting your shot. Everything was just perfect.”

The couple were two of nearly 2,000 people who received COVID-19 vaccines Saturday during the inaugural weekend of a vaccine hub in Gregg County that came together as a partnership between the county, the city of Longview and Christus Good Shepherd Health System.

Christus Good Shepherd CEO Todd Hancock said between 3,500 and 4,000 people will have received their first vaccines by the end of the weekend.

“This is a proud moment,” Hancock said as he watched dozens upon dozens of people get vaccinated Saturday morning. “It is our finest hour.”

Christus Good Shepherd announced Monday that the health care system had been designated as a vaccine hub for Gregg County. The hub intends to provide a sustainable vaccine program for the community, and the state has guaranteed that Christus will receive thousands of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks for the program.

By end of the day Monday, more than 14,000 people had been scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccines during the first four weeks of the program. Appointments for the vaccine clinic are by appointment only, and Christus hopes to announce more appointment times soon.

Christus is receiving vaccines from the state and is administering them at the Longview Exhibit Center at the fairgrounds. Longview firefighters were on hand Saturday to give the vaccines while Christus doctors and medical staff helped oversee the process. Meanwhile, nursing students from area colleges helped with registration. The hub is made possible with funding from Gregg County. The county pledged $250,000 on Thursday to help sustain the hub and will help support continued efforts with up to an additional $250,000 in the future.

County and state officials said Saturday the public-private partnership being used in Longview will likely serve as a model for other rural counties in Texas to receive the vaccine in the future. Additionally, officials said that in the coming weeks, they hope more vaccines will become available to Gregg County so that the county can further extend its partnerships to other medical facilities to reach more people.

“During the first month we will be here in-house, then we’re going to look at the next generation of vaccines and how we can get into schools, churches, et cetera,” said state Rep. Jay Dean. “We’re working on some different plans now to where we can actually go out into the public places to help vaccinate folks out there. That’s why I’m encouraged that Austin will work with me and my partners to secure more vaccine. That’s their main concern right now is making sure we get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can. We’ve got a really good organization.”

When Christus Good Shepherd was first denied a hub designation, Hancock approached Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt about a partnership to see if together the designation could be achieved. Stoudt contacted Dean, who helped them secure a face-to-face meeting with leaders in Austin. Stoudt credits the in-person meeting and handshakes with leaders in Austin with helping to obtain the designation.

“We told them all we need is the vaccine. We’ve got the process, we’ve got the financial resources, we just need the vaccine,” Stoudt recalled. “They said if we send you the vaccine, you have to get rid of it before we can send more. I said, ‘You’ve got my word. If you send us the vaccine, we will get it to the public.’ “

Stoudt said in the coming weeks, he hopes the collaboration will spread with more opportunities for people to receive a shot.

“We’re going to be doing a whole lot more. We’re going to spread it out in the community and include a lot more medical facilities and clinics,” he said. “It’s just going to be a phased in process.”

Officials spoke with dozens of people who received the vaccine Saturday, asking them how the process went. The resounding opinion was that it was fast, smooth and seamless.

Those who arrived at the Exhibit Center entered a set of doors that led to a registration area. From there, they were led to a middle section of the center where about a dozen stations were set up to receive a vaccination. Then, they were directed to a third a final area of the Exhibit Center to sit and wait for 15 minutes of observation. It took about 20 minutes for the entire process from start to finish.

“They did a great job of getting everything lined up. It was a quick, smooth process, and I was happy about that,” said Tim Williams, of Hallsville as he waited for observation after receiving his vaccine. “I thought I’d be here for an hour and a half, and it’s only took about 20 minutes. I just think they’ve done a really good job.”

Dean said he remains in constant contact with the state, giving feedback, and Hancock said he hopes this clinic will open more doors.

“As great as this is — and it is fabulous to schedule 14,000 people in just a few hours for the first four weeks of the program — all of us feel this in our heart: it’s not enough. There’s more demand than any of us can meet,” Hancock said. “But if you set that aside and you simply look at it and say, ‘What would it be like if we hadn’t received the hub? What would all of these people be doing?’ It makes you feel good to know that we are here today.”

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