U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, exited his Friday tour of Cleburne’s COVID-19 vaccination hub highly impressed and added that he plans to pen personal notes to those behind its success.
Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail and Johnson County Emergency Management Director Jamie Moore led Williams through the various areas and operations of the hub at the Cleburne Conference Center.
Williams enjoyed a first-hand look at the areas where people receive vaccinations, wait for 15 minutes afterward and the hub’s call and scheduling center.
“We laugh about it because we’ve made our shot tables kind of like if you’ve ever been to Cozumel or Cancun,” Lail told Williams. “You get off the plane and the cab drivers are barking trying to get you in their cab, ‘Come ride with me.’ That’s the way our shot people at our tables do, ‘Come over here. We’ll get you.’
“You look at our tables, we put a sign on one that says ‘We make people cry’ and a sign on the other that says ‘Our needles are dull.’
“People love that. They say, ‘I don’t want to cry but I don’t want a dull needle either.’
“So we do stuff to make it fun, take the pressure off make it lighthearted and make people laugh. Because no one wants a shot. They want to get vaccinated but no one wants a needle stuck in them. So we try to make it fun and as good a time as possible.”
Williams said that, because of that atmosphere, most people probably return to Cleburne for their second-round shot.
“I’d bet that we have a higher percentage than any other hub who return for their second shot, but I can’t measure that,” Lail replied. “But the fact that we don’t have much of a wait time, that we’re having a good time, happy to see them and playing ’80s rock ‘n’ roll over the speakers I think people appreciate that.”
“What you’ve done is made an event of it,” Williams said. “It’s an event, not a drag. And I see all these people working together here and making friends.”
Williams asked if the majority being vaccinated hale from Johnson County.
“To be honest, it’s all over the place,” Lail said. “The furthest we’ve had is Mexico. A woman flew here to get vaccinated. A guy from California was on our list and was going to fly out but then he managed to get vaccinated in California. We’ve talked to people in New York, Ohio, Missouri and from all over the state.”
Cancellations, Lail answered when Williams asked about any challenges.
“Our rate as of right now today is 12 percent,” Lail said. “Because people are getting on lists all over the place. We’ve had people make appointments on Monday morning then call back later the same day to cancel because they got in somewhere else.”
Instead of, as several other hub locations do, maintaining a long wait list the Cleburne hub maintains a 100-person callback list in case of cancellations. The center also renews sign ups every Monday.
“The problem is people on the callback list may be in Houston, Frisco or anywhere,” Lail said. “And these are last-minute, end-of-the-day calls telling someone we have a vaccine if they can get here in 20 minutes. Well, if they’re in Houston we obviously have to move to the next person on the list.”
Lail added that four people canceled last minute on Thursday afternoon.
“These vaccines are good for 6 hours,” Lail said. “When we get to that last 10 minutes of the day I’m not above standing out on Henderson Street holding vaccines over my head going, ‘Hey! Who wants one?’ Fortunately with those we were able to walk over to the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce and get four people vaccinated.”
Appointments, via computer or phone, are taken every Monday up to the number of doses the hub is allocated that week. Appointments go fast, 497 within 30 minutes last Monday. But so too does the line.
“Usually 10 minutes or less wait time to get your shot,” Lail told Williams. “You can see that anyone with an appointment can walk right in right now and get their shot.”
Appointments are scheduled for half-hour segments allowing those signed up to come any time within that 30-minute window.
“We do about 44 per half hour but yesterday morning we did 97 in our first half hour,” Lail said.
The hub is on pace to deliver more than 13,500 vaccines by April 2. That total adds to more than 19,000 from Dec. 23, when the vaccines were available only to medical personnel and first responders.
Lail added that Friday was the last day for Moderna vaccines though the hub will receive enough doses to take care of those still needing a follow up shot. The Cleburne hub is otherwise going solely with Pfizer vaccines from here out, Lail said.
Williams asked if availability was the reason.
“You need the ultra cold storage units for Pfizer,” Lail said. “Less places have those and so because of that there’s more doses of Pfizer available. The state sent us one of those units so we’re going with Pfizer. Also, with Moderna you have up to 28 days to get your second shot. With Pfizer you have 21.”
Williams asked if they expect to get any of the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“We don’t have any,” Moore said. “With Pfizer and Moderna we didn’t want to be doing those side by side because if you get one you can’t get the other. You can’t get Moderna for your first shot and Pfizer for your second. But if Johnson & Johnson becomes available we’ll take them. We can do those with Pfizer because they’re only one dose.”
It’s a team effort, Lail said, harnessing the efforts of Cleburne and Johnson County employees as well as representatives from Texas Health Harris Methodist Cleburne Hospital and Southwestern Adventist University nursing students.
“They can’t get into hospitals right now to do their rotations,” Lail said. “But they can get credit hours by coming here and helping.”
February’s snow and ice storms shuttered the hub for several days but the conference center never lost power and no vaccines were lost, Lail said. Those with appointments were simply pushed forward a few days.
Several city staff members spent a few nights at the conference center to man a shelter the city set up for those without power and/or nowhere else to escape the cold.
“I called on Jamie Moore because we were out of blankets for people and he drove in the ice to Weatherford to get blankets,” Lail said.
Moore added that Cleburne has reached out to several surrounding rural counties to let them know vaccines are available for their eligible residents.
Lail said they were able to send some vaccines to hubs in Bosque County and to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. More importantly, they were able to spare 60 doses last week to a Johnson County medical facility in need.
“When the rolling blackouts came through they lost 60 doses that were earmarked for their home bound patients,” Lail said. “These were people who needed second doses and the state wasn’t going to be able to deliver them before the deadline. So fortunately we were able to help those people get their vaccinations. We were happy to do that. The people in Bosque or TCU could’ve gone somewhere else but these people didn’t really have any option.”
Williams commended the effort.
“That’s a good story and good to hear,” Williams said. “You don’t necessarily hear many of the good stories like that about this.”