Socorro firefighter Humberto Lucero administers a coronavirus vaccine to an essential worker last Thursday at the Rodeo and Fairgrounds.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

Skeeter Leard was having a difficult time getting registered for the coronavirus vaccine and then she called the Socorro Fire Department.

Before calling the fire department, she said she received a phone call and was told she would be signed up and to wait for the email. It never came and never received a call back after trying to call the person again who gave her the information.

“Ultimately, I called Walmart,” Leard said. “I called my doctor’s office. I don’t even remember who else. I think Presbertyian. Nobody could give me the straight scoop.”

Her friend Daniel then suggested calling the fire department.

“About two hours later, the fire department called me and said I would get my appointment,” Leard said. “In the meantime, I had registered on their DOH thing… I had to get back-and-forth on it until we got our time assigned. They don’t give you your last orders until the day you are going which made me kind of nuts. Once we got a hold of the fire department, everything was cleared up right away.”

The fire department has helped with vaccine distribution since the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Socorro.

“I feel like it’s a good thing for us,” firefighter Humberto Lucero said. “It shows that we are trying to help move forward from this pandemic. It’s a good feeling to see everyone’s excitement to get the vaccine.”

Fire Chief Joe Gonzales said the Department of Health reached out in November or December to ask if the fire department was interested in helping. Each firefighter had to register online to be able to administer vaccines.

Gonzales said helping out with COVID-19 vaccines is similar to when they help with the flu vaccinations.

“I think we got to the point where we have exhibited to the Department of Health that we are capable of providing the resources needed so we can vaccinate the population as many as possible as allowed by the availability of the vaccine,” he said.

Since the end of January, the fire department and the DOH had held mass vaccination clinics at the Rodeo and Fairgrounds.

The first clinic was on Jan. 28 where 100 vaccines were given. The following week, 200 people were vaccinated.

Both of those clinics were people receiving their first shot. The first clinic for the second dose will be on Feb. 18.

Prior to Jan. 28, there were smaller clinics held for essential workers. Until the Feb. 4 clinic, the Department of Health was using the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. That clinic was the first time the Moderna vaccine was used.

Public health nurse Trudy Broome said the Moderna vaccine comes mixed together whereas, with the Pfizer vaccine, she had to mix the vaccine with sodium chloride on site.

The Moderna vaccine doesn’t expire until 2069, unlike Pfizer where it has to be used up during that clinic because of its short shelf life.

When patients arrive at the Rodeo and Fairgrounds, they are greeted by workers who check them in. The patients are asked a series of questions that include if they have any underlying conditions, are allergic to any medications and if they are feeling sick that day.

Gonzales said the questions asked are similar to the ones asked when receiving the flu vaccine.

After completing the check-in process, they follow the lane to the tent where the firefighters are standing to receive their vaccine.

“They were out there and they were very pleasant,” Leard said. “I asked to get out so I could get it in my left arm. My right arm doesn’t need to be out of business. Nobody made a fuss about it. I don’t think it even hurt.”

Patients can choose to stay in their car to get the vaccine or get out if they want the shot in the arm that is furthest from their car window.

They then pull around to the parking lot where they wait for either 15 or 30 minutes based on their answers to the questions asked upon arrival.

For the firefighters, administering the vaccine is similar to what they do when on call.

“It’s just like your normal flu shot or any other kind of shot we have to give on a day-to-day basis,” firefighter Daniel Pacheco said. “Nothing really crazy goes into it. You just pull up, give you the shot and send you on your way.”

Pacheco said that prior to the clinic each week, they find out from Gonzales and Captain Lawrence Baca what time they have to be at the Rodeo and Fairgrounds, what uniform they need to wear and what extra supplies to bring.

All of the firefighters at the Socorro Fire Department have received both doses of the vaccine. Gonzales said he did not have any side effects from either of the doses but both Lucero and Pacheco had a headache.

Pacheco said his headache came on almost immediately after the second dose and had body cramps the second day. He said that by the third day all of the symptoms were gone.

For Lucero, he had a sore arm after the first one and his arm was sorer after the second dose. Besides a headache, he had a little fatigue and muscle soreness after the second dose.

“I feel like when you get the side effects, it shows that the vaccine is working,” Lucero said. “It shows your body is building the antibodies and it’s just something that vaccines do. It’s not only the COVID-19 vaccine. Other vaccines have side effects too and it’s something you have to deal with.”