AUSTIN, Texas — Long lines were seen congregating outside Austin Public Health's COVID-19 vaccination site in Central East Austin on Thursday, another sign of the struggle locals are facing in their attempts to get vaccinated.
Several viewers reached out to KVUE in regard to the local health authority's online scheduling system. A spokesperson from APH provided the following statement:
"The system is not down. Vaccinations are still by appointment only. Due to a scheduling error with the program, one time slot was overscheduled today, so we are encouraging people to come when they are available to minimize wait times for everyone."
On Thursday, APH also clarified that users on the site may see messaging that there is no availability within 100 miles. This means the user has successfully pre-registered, but no more vaccine appointments are available at the time due to significant demand.
APH reported it has distributed 3,996 doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday night after receiving 12,000 doses on Monday from the State. APH plans to administer all doses it received this week and make improvements to the process if needed to be prepared to distribute future allocations.
The first three days of distribution have been through closed clinics servicing Phase 1A and 1B patients from community partners that serve uninsured or underinsured populations.
Local health leaders are asking the community for patience as they aim to distribute all of the available vaccines by Saturday. This is APH's first week operating a pilot vaccine handed down by the State and its largest allocation received to date.
“We understand there is frustration with technical issues, staffing limitations and the novelty of the program that we have seen this week,” said Stephanie Hayden-Howard, APH director. “We hope people can understand that we are seeking to get this vaccine to the people who need it most as quickly and efficiently as we can. Ultimately, we are very happy to see that people overwhelmingly want to get vaccinated, and we hope to soon be able to provide the vaccine to more people.”
Individuals who have pre-registered do not need to continue to call the APH hotline or visit the website to see if new appointments are available. They will be proactively contacted if more vaccines become available and if they meet the 1A or 1B qualifications.
“City and County staff are doing an incredible job with the resources that they have,” said Cassandra De Leon, APH interim assistant director. “We are so thankful to them for standing up a huge operation so quickly. It’s important to remember that we are still in a state of surge, and the same people who are doing case investigations, data entry, COVID testing and other emergency functions are now adding to their workload by helping with the vaccine operations. We are also thankful to local partners who are volunteering to assist us with efforts moving forward, and we hope that they will be able to help us manage vaccinating large numbers of people in the future while also managing the other emergency operations elements of the COVID-19 response.”
The APH IT team has also been working around the clock to work through technical issues due to overwhelming demand. These issues will be gradually resolved as more people continue to sign up.
At this time, APH does not know if it will be receiving additional vaccines from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
APH has asked the media not to disclose the location of the vaccination site to protect patient privacy and to maintain social distancing. Vaccinations with APH are currently by appointment only and walk-ups are not accepted.
At the Central East Austin location providing vaccines on Thursday, long lines took up most of the afternoon.
KVUE spoke with one woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, who showed an email she received from Austin Public Health stating the appointment time had been changed.
"*Your vaccine is guaranteed.* We have only issued appointments to as many people as we have doses of vaccine. Our goal is to spread people out as efficiently as possible today to shorten wait times and ensure social distancing can be maintained," the email read in part. "We do not have any additional appointments at this time. Those without an appointment will be turned away. We will verify your appointment so please bring your confirmation email or text message."
Another Austin resident, Wayne Marks, said he waited in line from around 12:30 to around 2:45, before getting his first dose of the Moderna vaccine. He said he qualifies for Phase 1B.
"I don’t think it was frustrating because you’re standing there. I think the fact that there was that many people that showed up at the same time seemed kind of unreasonable to me. I would think that you could do it differently," Marks said. "If there’s a vaccine for everybody, I mean, hey, if it takes two or three hours out of your life to go get a vaccine, you know, I’m going to say that’s OK."
If you qualify under Phase 1A or 1B, for more information on scheduling a vaccination appointment, click here.
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