Vaccine demand hitting health department
The Ector County Health Department has been busy for weeks working to vaccinate Ector County students before they go back to school next month. But due to a short-handed staff, it’s led to long lines, limited hours and a lot of frustration.
Ector County students will go back to school Aug. 20 and are required to have a set amount of vaccinations depending on their grade level before they are permitted to attend school. With only two full-time nurses at the Health Department right now, working class parents are having difficulty finding the time to get their children the vaccinations they need.
The benefits of vaccinations from the Health Department are that they can walk in, no appointment is necessary, and the vaccinations are free with only a small administration fee. Health Department Director Gino Solla said that fee can be waived if the family falls below the poverty line.
There are other options for parents in Odessa. They can go to a private doctor, but that would cost more money and the appointment may have to be made a month in advance. The other option for walk-in immunizations comes from the Medical Center Hospital Family Health Clinics, located at 840 W. Clements St. and 6030 W. University Blvd. These two clinics have walk-in immunizations for one hour a week, from 3 to 4 p.m. every Friday.
“That’s not giving patients enough flexibility to go and receive the vaccines when they have the time,” Solla said. “So they all get rerouted back to us.”
The Health Department can be busy for two to three months dealing with immunizations due to the lack of walk-in availability. Solla said this could be avoided if other entities in the county provided more accessibility to vaccines year-round.
“If that’s not achievable, then we would definitely need all the providers that provide vaccines to really rev up about a month prior to and a month after school so that we could take care of all the kids,” Solla said.
County Judge Debi Hays told Solla during a budget meeting Monday she was able to convince Medical Center Health System to expand their walk-in hours to 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday last week, but it was only for that week.
“I tried to get more hours, but that’s all I could get,” Hays told Solla. “We’re not done with that conversation with Medical Center Hospital. Their duty should be to help the citizens of Ector County.”
Hays said she was hoping to have further conversations with MCHS on how they could help the Health Department.
“We’re supposed to be doing this for the citizens, and the people who are gonna be hurt the most are the citizens,” she said. “I don’t want moms out there in 100 degree-plus weather.”
Solla said after the budget meeting that Hays had been very receptive to his concerns.
“It’s the first county judge that actually followed up on my concern and did initiate conversation with the hospital board,” Solla said. “I hope that it means we can get the support we need.”
David Garcia, executive director of MCHS’ Family Health Clinics, which provide the walk-in immunizations, said MCHS would love to expand their hours, but they are seeing a similar shortage in clinical resources. He said their main focus was being a medical home for their patients, as opposed to just taking anyone walking in for a vaccination.
“Taking care of our patients is our number one priority right now,” Garcia said. “That’s kind of preventing us from expanding anything at this point.”
MCHS will be offering further walk-in opportunities during their annual Healthy Kids Fun Day event, which will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 17 at 840 W. Clements St. During that time, the clinic will be offering free vaccinations for students between the ages of 4 and 18. Call 432-640-4860 for more information.