Pusley accuses Canales of overstepping her role in county's vaccination distribution

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.JPG
Posted at 8:56 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 23:21:47-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District is getting ready to ramp up vaccine distribution, which is a decision at-large city council member Mike Pusley supports.

However, he said he doesn't agree with the decision-making, after unsuccessfully lobbying for vaccine events to take place at more locations throughout the city, such as Flour Bluff and Padre Island.

"The county judge feels she should be in charge of the process," he said. "We have asked time and time again to be allowed to have distribution points within the city limits of Corpus Christi. She has not been amenable to that."

Canales responded to Pusley's assertion citing recommendations made by the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) created by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"The Public Health Department follows the vaccine allocation guiding principles of the EVAP to distribute vaccines efficiently, effectively, and equitably," the statement reads. "Hubs, regardless of operator (government or private) are charged with serving as a regional resource. State allocation is provided to hubs based on the region they serve, not just the city or county they are located in."

Nueces County-Corpus Christi Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez has an answer for why there haven't been any clinics where Pusley mentioned. She said the county has two designated hubs: the health district and Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Rodriguez said she makes the overarching decisions, such as sites and vaccine distribution, in her capacity as the designated County Incident Commander for the health emergency in Nueces county, but said she collaborates Local Health Authority, Dr. Srikanth Ramachandruni in order to reach those decisions.

She said the Richard M Borchard Fairgrounds were chosen as the area's first distribution site because of its logistics: it's large, with drive-through capability; traffic patterns can be controlled around the building and the county is able to leave tents and equipment standing to make the repetitive set-ups required easier.

"The hub, you now, has to be open to any resident, any jurisdiction," she said. "Because, again, if you start focusing on one group, you think that by saving the one group, you’re going to save everybody else. It doesn’t work like that."

There's a new agreement in place to rotate between the fairgrounds and the American Bank Center, Rodriguez said, a site which was brought to life by Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo, and allows those wanting vaccinations to do it within the city limits. So, logistics also will need to be considered at the ABC as they were at the fairgrounds.

In the case of the American Bank Center, Rodriguez said traffic flow and construction in the area were considerations.

"Does everything flow well? We don't want people to get frustrated again and say 'Oh my God, this is a terrible place," she said. "Why would you make us go left, right, left, right.'"

It takes time getting used to a new site, she said, which is why each site has seen an incremental increase in the number of doses administered at each site.

The first few mega-clinics at the fairgrounds, the number of vaccinations were steady ramped up. The American Bank Center site will follow suit: On Saturday, organizers plan for the event to increase from 500 to 2,500 injections. Rodriguez said it's all part of a learning process.

"We were just trying to kind of perfect it, if you will," she said. "We were trying to make it more efficient. So you have to be able to do those things before you start jumping all over the place, to be successful."

Rodriguez said she disagrees with Pusley, and doesn't believe Canales has stepped out of line. She said she bases this belief on experience working with a judge Loyd Neal in 2010.

"H1N1 and the county judge was the lead," she said. "And he made it very clear. . . . He basically said when there’s an emergency, a pandemic -- and it was a declared pandemic during swine flu -- he said he is the leader of Nueces County. So he takes the lead. And so that was never a question to me."

In the end, Rodriguez believes city officials, such as Pusley, and county officials, such as Canales, have the same goal: vaccinate as many people against COVID-19, in the quickest way, with what's supplied.

"We don't always agree, but I do think that they believe that we have the experience in public health -- the expertise," she said. "So, they're really good about listening to why we're saying we want to do something or why we don't.

Canales issued a statement responding to the councilman’s comments. See it below:

"Vaccines are in short supply nationwide, and both the Federal government and the State of Texas allocate vaccines to providers in the state.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has created an Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) to make recommendations on vaccine allocation decisions, including identifying groups that should be vaccinated first to provide the most protection to vulnerable populations and critical state resources.

The panel uses the following criteria to determine vaccine allocation across the state:

Vaccine Allocation Guiding Principles

  • Protecting health care workers who fill a critical role in caring for and preserving the lives of COVID-19 patients and maintaining the health care infrastructure for all who need it.
  • Protecting front-line workers who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their work providing critical services and preserving the economy.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations who are at greater risk of severe disease and death if they contract COVID-19.
  • Mitigating health inequities due to factors such as demographics, poverty, insurance status and geography.
  • Data-driven allocations using the best available scientific evidence and epidemiology at the time, allowing for flexibility for local conditions.
  • Geographic diversity through a balanced approach that considers access in urban and rural communities and in affected ZIP codes.
  • Transparency through sharing allocations with the public and seeking public feedback.

The City of Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health Department is one of two State of Texas vaccination hubs in Nueces County. The other hub is Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Additionally, there are many registered vaccine providers, such as hospitals and pharmacies. The Health Department operates its own hub and assists other hubs and providers with logistics expertise to help them distribute their vaccine allocations as quickly as possible. The State of Texas closely monitors vaccine distribution and will increase allocation to those hubs with a proven track record of rapid delivery when more vaccines are available nationwide.

The Public Health Department follows the vaccine allocation guiding principles of the EVAP to distribute vaccines efficiently, effectively, and equitably. Hubs, regardless of operator (government or private) are charged with serving as a regional resource. State allocation is provided to hubs based on the region they serve, not just the city or county they are located in.

The Public Health Department hub is the largest single provider of vaccines in Nueces County and accounts for 44% of the vaccine received in Nueces County. Because of the presence of a second hub and several large providers in the City of Corpus Christi, about 85% of all the vaccines sent to Nueces County have been given to Corpus Christi residents."