CUERO, Texas - Following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order to begin vaccinating underserved populations, the Texas National Guard hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Cuero Jan. 29.
The mission began in Austin as Texas Department of Emergency Management officials loaded a cooler containing 100 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine on a Texas Department of Public Safety Airbus AS350 helicopter. Half an hour later, Texas DPS pilot Mike Pena was circling the Cuero City Park and adjacent airport looking for a place to land.
At the gates to the Cuero Municipal Park Clubhouse, a steady stream of cars had begun lining up, each containing a preselected recipient of the 100 doses allocated for the community. Among those onsite to greet the residents was Cuero City Mayor Sara Post-Meyer.
"We have at the hospital a waiting list of close to 5,000 folks, and the DeWitt Medical Health Department has an additional 500 on a list," said Post-Meyer. "Finding 100 vaccines for our community is wonderful."
Ernesto Paiz, Texas Department of Emergency Management District coordinator, and a team of eight Texas Army National Guard medics from Joint Task Force Texas worked alongside county officials and volunteers to convert the clubhouse into a clinic. After the set-up, the medics began processing medical questionnaires, screening vaccine recipients, preparing medical supplies, and drawing up the vaccine.
Pvt. 1st Class Angela Holverson was among the Soldiers loading the vaccine. Gripping each needle and vial in gloved hands, she carefully measured the Moderna compound, excited as her precision paid off with an additional dose left in the vial.
"You can't combine lots," said Holverson. "But if you're careful and get lucky enough, you might pull the 11th dose from the vial; that's what I always try to do."
Holverson and her fellow Guardsmen managed to squeeze additional doses from eight of the 10 vials – enough for eight more people to receive the vaccine. Cyndi Smith, DeWitt County emergency management coordinator, quickly located eight high-risk individuals in the county from a list.
"This means life for so many people who have been waiting to receive vaccines and been unable to do so," said Post-Meyer.
Spc. Matthew Bernal, a medic with the Texas National Guard, echoed the belief that the vaccine means life, sharing that the virus had taken a family member.
"Being able to support this mission and save my fellow Texans means a lot to me," said Bernal.
According to Bernal, the Guard members were selected because of their military medical training and certifications.
"As medics, we are also licensed with the state of Texas as emergency medical technicians," said Bernal.
Sgt. Elizabeth Browning, the noncommissioned officer in charge, took time with each community member she vaccinated to discuss concerns and reassure them the vaccine was safe.
"I know the shot can seem a little frightening, but it's OK. I got both of them and I was just fine," said Browning.
As she delivered each shot, this statement would become a familiar refrain – in English and Spanish.
For home health care worker Maricela Guzman, the Guardsman's bilingual ability helped her move through the vaccination process quickly.
"This shot is good for me and my family," said Guzman, holding up a picture of her granddaughter. "These men and women have done a good job with the shot; it did not even hurt."
Sandra Brazil, a registered nurse from DeWitt County, said she was glad to see the Soldiers at the clinic as she brought her 92-year-old mother in for vaccination.
"I'm thankful the clinic was able to be set up, and I was always like, get the Guard involved to help get the vaccine out in mass because it's going to help us all."
Post-Meyer said the Brazil family's story is not unique to DeWitt County, as many residents are at increased risk from COVID-19.
"The population of Cuero and DeWitt County is elderly, and we find that this type of program helps vaccinate folks who have difficulty getting around and difficulty breathing," said Post-Meyer. "This is a wonderful opportunity from the state of Texas and the National Guard to provide a better life for the people in our community."
Medics from the Texas National Guard will continue the vaccination campaign at sites across Texas selected by the Texas Department of Emergency Management. Current locations include DeWitt, Marion, Real, Sherman and Starr counties, with more planned.