Two women are working to get vaccine demand up in rural East Texas

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Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 8:17 AM CDT
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PALESTINE, Texas (KLTV) - Leaders in the healthcare industry and federal officials are asking more people to protect themselves against COVID-19, but many Americans are hesitant to get vaccinated.

About a third of eligible Texans have been fully vaccinated from COVID-19, this is according to the state health department. Although the virus has killed nearly 50,000 people in our state many health care providers are seeing a major drop in people wanting to get their shot.

“We’re losing people and people aren’t getting to say goodbye, and I find that incredibly sad,” said Dr. Carolyn Salter, an East Texas health care provider.

Dr. Salter practices out of Anderson county, the only East Texas county with less than 15% of the population fully vaccinated, according to Texas DSHS. She’s been finding new ways to reach people in rural areas and to correct misleading information about the vaccine.

“MRNA vaccines have been around for about 30 years, the technology is well developed,” said Dr. Salter. “The decision not to get vaccinated is a life or death decision because you could die from COVID,” said Dr. Salter, “but almost no one has died from this vaccine. It’s extremely rare.”

Dr. Salter has been to VFW posts, school districts, and worked with local governments to vaccinate smaller towns. Just earlier this week she traveled to Athens to vaccinate just one man. She’s even partnered up with Dorenda Smith of Palestine who’s been volunteering to help match people to vaccination sites. According to Smith, there’s a major gap in rural Texas vaccinations because oftentimes signing up is a digital process.

“Most of the people over 65, over 75, over 80 don’t know how to do that,” she said. “And then we have a whole section of our population that don’t have any internet access whatsoever.”

Smith has helped hundreds of people sign up for vaccines, most of of them in here in East Texas but she says while for months her phone was constantly ringing with people looking for a shot the demand has significantly dropped.

“In the last 3-4 weeks it’s turned into begging people to get the vaccines,” said Smith.

In recent weeks she said she has scheduled more teenagers than any other age group. She added that interestingly enough, it’s them who’s working to convince their parents and working Americans to go get a shot.

Smith believes more should be done to target working class individuals saying, “those Americans aren’t free to get a shot between 8 and 5. We have to do a better job in vaccinating them after 5, preferably on Fridays after 5 so they have a weekend to get over it if they have a reaction.”

Since she started she’s tracked each week where vaccines are located in the area and how to register. And even though she’s become somewhat of an expert vaccine tracker, she says it can still be very confusing.

“Say for instance, this morning I checked and according to the CDC website, there’s this many getting people getting shots, and according to the state website there’s this many people giving shots. On one of them one of our shot providers isn’t even listed as a provider.”

While she doesn’t consider herself a “Vaccine Hunter,” her matching process has turned into a spider web effect -- one person will come to her looking for a place to get a shot and once they’re vaccinated, they send their family members and friends Smith’s way for help. Health care officials across the state are also looking at how to get the demand back up. Some areas like in Austin and Lubbock are shutting down their larger hubs to allow more local doctors and smaller providers who have a closer relationship with the people to give out the shots.

The FDA requires vaccine providers to the report any deaths after a person has been vaccinated to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system. Since December 14th, they’ve received 4,178 death reports of that group in the U.S. (0.0017%), according to the CDC. Both FDA and CDC physicians review the autopsies, medical backgrounds and clinical information of each death. So far, these medical professionals have concluded none of these deaths were vaccine related.

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