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Texas National Guard Teams Will Vaccinate Residents For COVID-19 In Five Rural Counties

Members of Texas National Guard work with shipments of personal protective equipment in a San Antonio warehouse.
Eric Gay/AP
Members of the National Guard work with Personal Protective Equipment during the coronavirus pandemic at a Texas Division of Emergency Management Warehouse, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in San Antonio.

Starting Thursday, state mobile vaccination teams staffed by Texas National Guard members will be deployed to five rural Texas counties to administer coronavirus vaccines to qualified residents.

National Guard teams will visit DeWitt, Marion, Real, Sherman and Starr counties as part of a newly created State Mobile Vaccine Pilot Program announced by Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday. The program aims to help vaccinate homebound Texans, Texans 65 years of age and older and other communities in need, according to a press release from Abbott and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

On Wednesday, President Biden ordered full reimbursement to states that use the National Guard to increase the pace of vaccinations nationally. Part of Biden’s vaccination plan includes deploying FEMA and National Guard resources to reach a goal of 100 million doses administered in 100 days nationwide.

Though Texas became the first state to administer 1 million doses to residents, the state’s rural regions have been slower to vaccinate residents after rollout and distribution issues.

Starr County, which currently has the 15th highest case rate per 1,000 people in the state, is among a group of South Texas counties that have been hammered by the coronavirus over the past few months. COVID-19 cases in Starr County have spiked in January, with 957 new positives in the past 14 days.

According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, DeWitt, Marion, Real and Sherman counties have each vaccinated a few hundred people, and their vaccination rates are far lower than the levels of larger counties.

Don McBeath, director of government relations for the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, said only two of the counties — DeWitt and Starr — have a hospital. He said the other three counties are examples of sparsely populated regions that may never have a nearby COVID-19 vaccine provider like a hospital, clinic or pharmacy.

"For those counties, something like this may be their only option to get vaccine,” McBeath said. “The only way you’re going to be able to get vaccine into those communities is to basically take some type of mobile unit there."