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Judge Branick: “very slow, plodding” vaccine process taking place; streamlining efforts beginning

BEAUMONT — The City of Port Arthur Health Department is teaming with city, county and private health providers across Jefferson, Hardin, Jasper, Newton and Orange counties to more effectively acquire and distribute COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Details of the group, dubbed the SETX Vaccine Committee, were shared Monday morning during a press conference in Beaumont.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick spoke first, stressing the group is only vaccinating residents that fall into groups 1A and 1B, meaning first responders, those 65 and older or those with underlying health conditions.

“Please, if you are under age 65, don’t have underlying health conditions, don’t go register as of yet,” he said. “There will be time for people to register. Those are the individuals we are most concerned with right now.”

Registration is taking place but scheduling will not be done until the SETX Vaccine Committee knows it has sufficient access to the vaccine to accommodate the demand.

“If you register, get an appointment and it turns out you don’t fit in one of those categories, you are going to be turned away,” Branick said. “We want to protect our most vulnerable populations at this point and time with a very scarce resource.”

Those seeking to register for the vaccine are asked to log onto vaccine.beaumonttexas.gov. Those without technology access can call 409-550-2536 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Branick said the last several weeks have been marked by confusing and contradictory information about vaccines and what health departments, emergency management offices and local government is doing.

The group nature of the SETX Vaccine Committee is expected to put local interests in the best position to get vaccines as quickly as possible. The committee has submitted a distribution plan to the state.

One of the problems seen, according to Branick, is Texas not receiving a correct per capita amount of vaccine for distribution commensurate with its population.

“We have requested 22,000 vaccines from the state because we have commitments from all of our partners here that we can do 11,000 doses a week,” Branick said, noting the other 11,000 doses would be used for mandatory second shots. “This places us in a good position to compete with those larger counties across the state that in the last few weeks may have gotten larger distribution.”

All vaccine received by the committee will be initially stored at Lamar University before heading to local entities, like the Port Arthur Health Department, which also serves Mid-County.

Each individual entity that administers the vaccine is responsible for sharing individual resident information with the state.

“There have been reports on the news that seem to indicate getting the vaccine in sufficient quantity to vaccinate everybody, be it all 254,000 people in Jefferson County or the couple of hundred thousand people in adjoining counties, is just a matter of making a phone call,” Branick said. “That is not the case.

“If the manufacturers make a million doses a day, it’s still going to be a year before all the people in the United States can be vaccinated. It’s going to be a very slow, plodding, methodical process until such time that we have more supply chain.”