Jerry Lang wants a COVID-19 vaccine.
At 77 years old, he knows the vaccine offers protection from the deadly virus that has been plaguing the community and the country for almost a year.
The vaccine offers hope to him, his 74-year-old wife and thousands of other seniors across East Texas who want a vaccine.
The problem for Lang and many others is confusion about how to actually get a shot. From a shortage of availability to long waitlists and confusion over registration, thousands of area seniors have been left with a long list of questions about how, when or if they will receive a vaccination.
“Once you get registered, you never know when you’re going to get called, and in the meantime, you have to just pray that you don’t get infected with it. If you get infected with it, you have to hope and pray that you don’t die from it,” Lang said Thursday. “It’s very confusing. and people are dying.”
Hope may be on the horizon for Gregg County residents like Lang.
Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said the county has applied to receive vaccines directly from the state. That request has been finalized, but Browne is hopeful that confirmation will come soon.
“We hope that will offer hope to people in Gregg County,” Browne said.
This week, no facilities in Gregg County received an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines from the state.
When asked about the lack of vaccines here, Lara Anton, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of State Health Services, reiterated that the supply of vaccines is limited by “the manufacturers’ ability to produce it and the amount allotted to Texas by the federal government.”
Because the supply is limited, the Texas’ Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel recommended moving to using a vaccination hub strategy, Anton explained. According to the state, the goal of the hubs is to provide more vaccines to residents and a simpler way to sign up for an appointment.
“Hubs now receive the majority of the vaccine allotted to Texas each week, but smaller providers are still getting allocations,” Anton said.
The state has established 76 vaccine hubs. Texas has 254 counties, so some counties, such as Gregg, do not have a hub. Then, other counties have multiple hubs. For example, six of the state’s 76 hubs are in Harris County, home of Houston. There are four in Dallas County, four in Collin County and so on.
The nearest hub to Longview is in Smith County, which has two. They were designed to serve residents from more than a dozen area counties.
But asking Longview residents who qualify for a vaccine to drive to Tyler seems unreasonable, Lang said. Some residents in Smith County’s service area, such as those who live in Harrison, Marion or Panola counties, would have to drive even further than those from Longview.
“We shouldn’t be forced to drive to Tyler,” Lang said.
He noted that some older people are uncomfortable with driving on highways, while others may not have transportation.
“We’re relying on neighborhood pharmacies here to have vaccines for us, but so far they have not,” he said. “Their supply was limited, and they don’t know when they’re going to get their next shipment.”
Most Longview pharmacies are out of the vaccines as are hospitals. Longview Regional Medical Center and Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center each reported this week that all of their vaccines have been administered.
Further adding to the confusion are waitlists.
Anton said anyone eligible to receive a vaccine can go to a hub to get vaccinated; however, many hubs have waiting lists and require appointments.
“We recommend that people check on the requirements particular to each hub,” she said. “People can also check to see if their health care provider or local pharmacy is an approved vaccine provider. Their provider may also be creating a waitlist.”
After learning that Brookshire’s and Super 1 Foods were in the process of becoming distributors for the vaccine, Lang registered to be placed on a waitlist. On the Brookshire’s website, the Brookshire’s location and both Super 1 locations in Longview have those waitlists.
“I registered, but at the same time, the website said that whenever they got the vaccine, they would put a notice on their website,” Lang said. “The problem is you have to keep checking the websites. We still don’t know when they’ll be available, if they’re going to notify us, or how they’re going to notify us. It’s confusing. ... Talk about losing hope.”
When Lang heard that Gregg County was applying to be a vaccine hub, he said that gives him hope.
More vaccines coming to Gregg County means people who live here can get vaccinated without having to drive an hour, and it means people in counties neighboring Gregg also will have an opportunity to be vaccinated closer to home.
While the state has to first approve Gregg County’s request, if it does, Browne said the county would likely start receiving regular allotments.
If the county is approved and starts receiving vaccines, people will have to sign up to get a shot, Browne said. There likely will be an initial clinic and then a waitlist for future clinics, he said.
The county also doesn’t know how many doses it might receive initially and in the following weeks.
Browne said if the county receives a large number of vaccines, as it hopes, then the county health department will work in conjunction with the city of Longview and Longview Fire Department to administer the vaccines.
“We will hopefully mirror what NET Health is doing at Harvey Hall in Tyler with very similar protocols,” he said.
The good news is that Gregg County already has a plan for how to administer the vaccines, Browne said.
“In conjunction with our Emergency Operations Center, we had already made plans for how we would do a mass vaccination or treatment for people. So we have our plans already,” Browne said. “We just need to know if we’ll be approved, and we need to know how many vaccines we will receive, so we can make a decision on how many volunteers and how much personnel we will need to administer them.”
Browne said he understands the questions and confusion that people have about how to receive a vaccine. The vaccines are distributed from the federal government to the states and then from the states to individual facilities. The state determines which facilities get doses and how many they will receive.
“We just have to wait and hope that we get our allocation,” Browne said. “We have put in our request, and it’s in the state’s hands.”