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Texas' answer to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine could be weeks away

Bad data and poor planning have left people calling clinics, hospitals and health departments with few answers

FORT WORTH, Texas — When Texas expanded access to COVID-19 vaccines last week, millions of people were left searching for doses and providers became flooded with calls with little to vaccine to give.

Brad Kaminsky lives in Collin County and is diabetic.

“I’m getting a different story everywhere I go because there’s no uniformity,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

He and his wife Doreen have called pharmacies, hospitals and clinics across the county.

“They really just weren’t prepared, and every county is different,” Doreen Kaminsky said.

Last week, Texas told providers to start the 1B group: those with health conditions putting them at higher risk of hospitalization or death if they contract COVID-19, and those over 65.

Many providers, though, say they’re still on 1A: healthcare workers.

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“Hospitals are frustrated that they were told to give out 1B, but they don't have any vaccine to do it yet,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “Hopefully that gets better this week.”

Jenkins said the county’s registration website for COVID-19 vaccines averaged one person every three seconds when it went online Saturday night.

Tarrant County’s health department has registered more than 100,000 people on its vaccine website.

But each county health department counts as only one provider in the county. According to DSHS data, Tarrant County providers have received 59,875 doses as of Sunday to 83,250 in Dallas.

But Tarrant County’s health department has received about 15,000 doses to just 1,200 for Dallas County. Jenkins says they don’t know why.

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“We're trying to get that clarification,” he said. “We want to get as much as we can because we need the vaccine for our residents.”

Jenkins says the state is planning to launch a site for people to register for all providers in mid to late January.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services said that the site is “something that is a little further down the road than mid-January. We are working to stand up an event management system that will allow any Texan to search for available vaccines near their address and register to be vaccinated at DSHS-coordinated events. It doesn’t have a launch date yet. Additional functionality may be added later. People in Phase 1 (1A & 1B) should reach out to their providers and their local health department to either make an appointment or get on the waitlist for an appointment.”

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“The state that was supposed to be doing the website for everyone didn't have the website ready,” Jenkins said. “It led to the hospitals and the counties having to get together and scrambling, saying, ‘OK, what do we do now?'"

Collin County has not shared a registration website but has asked people to call its appointment line: 214-491-4804. Denton County has a registration website but shut down the link after it was overwhelmed, and is currently working to figure out a waitlist system.

For now, the state says the best option is to contact one of the thousands of providers who say they’ve been overwhelmed with calls.

The Kaminskys say pharmacies and hospitals seem unclear about when they’ll move on to 1B because it’s up to each provider to decide when healthcare workers have been vaccinated.

“They’re not making it mandatory or putting any sort of urgency or timeline on it,” Doreen Kaminsky said.

Jenkins says the health department and county hospitals plan to use a scoring system to prioritize 1B patients.

“Basically, who, if they get COVID, is going to do the worst? In a variety of factors and try to give to those people first,” Jenkins said. “People with active cancer might get it, say before someone who is overweight.”

Jenkins said it could be a few weeks before the county’s health department hits that stage.

He says the state mistakenly started Phase 1B early thinking there were excess doses going unused because of data on the state site that was wrong.

“Their website is slow to update and inaccurate,” Jenkins said. “The politicians that changed it to 1B didn't understand that.”

Now, families across the state are scrambling for answers.

“What I’d really like to see is some really clear and concise information across the board,” Doreen Kaminsky said.