Prioritizing border agents for COVID-19 vaccine ‘is complicated,’ CBP head tells South Texas congressman

Border Report

RN Connie Garcia extracts a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine which will be administered to a Texas Tech University Health Science Center student at Texas Tech University Health Science Center’s Academic Building Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in Odessa, Texas. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A South Texas congressman says he is working to help federal law enforcement agents on the Southwest border to receive COVID vaccinations.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, Texas, said he spoke Monday with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, who told him that Border Patrol agents and CBP officers were not automatically in line to be among law enforcement agents to receive the coronavirus vaccinations, under current federal guidelines.

“His response was, ‘It’s a little bit more complicated.’ So this morning we spoke and he says, ‘I’m going to take you up on the offer (to help),'” Cuellar told Border Report.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

Cuellar said that his office is reaching out to Veterans Affairs offices as well as local county and state officials along the Southwest border asking they put aside vials of the vaccine specifically for the thousands of Border Patrol and CBP officials.

Cuellar says he has already reached out to Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd to request help in seeing that these border officials are considered front-line workers in need of the life-saving vaccine.

“This morning, I sent a note to Nim Kidd, who is the state coordinator for Emergency Management and said, ‘Hey, how about the federal officials?’ We got to make sure we cover them also,” Cuellar said via phone from Washington, D.C.

Kidd’s spokesman, Seth Christensen, confirmed the conversation to Border Report and wrote in an email that “vaccine providers in Texas should be following the Texas Department of State Health Services’ guidelines for vaccinations. As you know, groups 1A and 1B are eligible for vaccination in Texas.” The list includes healthcare workers, the elderly and those with medical conditions. A complete list of all who are currently eligible for the vaccine can be found at the Texas Health and Human Services website. 

Earlier Monday, Cuellar held a media briefing via Facebook live and Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez chimed in and vowed to also reach out to state officials to help set aside doses of the vaccine for federal border officials, as well as vaccinate the 1,800 employed by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office.

If we have the necessary number of vaccines we could do them both.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

“We’ve already been contacted by people in green, blue, white etc., and we certainly want to help accommodate them. But priorities have been established by the government and we’re trying to follow those,” Cortez said. “We have 1,800 people in our sheriff’s office. I don’t know what priority that would be as to who would be first, our people or your people, but if we have the necessary number of vaccines we could do them both. I will call Mr. Kidd and ask him to help us with that because certainly that makes a lot of sense.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, of South Texas, speaks with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar during a Facebook live media briefing on Jan. 4, 2021. (Screenshot)

Cuellar’s brother, Martin Cuellar, who is the sheriff of Webb County, which is home to Laredo, also took part in Monday’s Facebook Live event. Henry Cuellar told Border Report that his brother has expressed concerns to him over how to add in federal officers when only so many vaccine doses are being sent to communities to inoculate their front-line workers.

“My brother told me also, and as the judge said, first we’re going to take care of county officials and then we have some other ones but they’re counted,” Henry Cuellar said.

Border Patrol officials told Border Report their agents are not currently slated to receive the vaccine. In an email, an agency spokesman wrote: ““Currently there are no scheduled or pre-arranged vaccinations for Border Patrol personnel in the Rio Grande Valley. As the Rio Grande Valley Sector becomes aware of the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine, the information is relayed to personnel.”

Inoculations right now are crucial as South Texas and other border communities are battling a spike in COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, Hidalgo County reported an additional 448 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, bringing the total number of cases to over 52,110 cases and 2,208 deaths since the pandemic began last March.

Cortez asked Cuellar if Congress was approving more funds for counties and cities for COVID-19 relief, but Cuellar responded that it so far has not been approved. A second set of stimulus payments of $600 per qualifying individuals are now being sent out, but no new funds were appropriated for municipalities.

“We pretty much have used all our funding and we continue to battle COVID,” Cortez said.

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