Austin Public Health vaccine registration opened last week, but behind other cities

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Deb Taylor can’t wait for life after the pandemic.

“I know I should say I’m going back to church,” she laughed. “But I’m spending the afternoon at a Mexican restaurant.”

Now, the Williamson County resident spends her time searching for a way to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine. She went to Austin Public Health’s website after the health authority announced it would receive 12,000 vaccine doses from the state this week.

APH plans to prioritize people in Phase 1A, which includes unvaccinated frontline healthcare workers. It will then create a public registration system to vaccinate those who meet the requirements for Phase 1B, which includes people 65 or older or those who have underlying health conditions.

Taylor qualifies for Phase 1B. But to her frustration and the frustration of others who reached out to KXAN, there was nowhere to register on APH’s website.

“I’ve been in for 10 months, cutting my hair with the dog clippers,” said Taylor. “I mean, people are just desperate right now.”

In San Antonio, registration for 9,000 slots is already full. On Monday, people started lining up at the Alamodome to roll up their sleeves. Harris County also reports having no more appointments available. The Houston Health Department, a third vaccine hub provider, reported it received its 8,000 doses on Friday.

APH declined our request for an interview Monday. With few exceptions, APH has not allowed individual interviews with top health officials during the pandemic, opting instead for press conferences.

“We will alert the public when the system is accepting registrations in the coming days,” said a spokesperson with APH. “To protect patient privacy and to manage demand at the moment, vaccine clinic locations will only be available to those with scheduled appointments.”  

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says he wants the city to use all 12,000 doses in the next week.

“If we can demonstrate to the state that we can get out 12,000 vaccines in a 7-day period, our hope is that they’ll give us more,” he said.

Before now, APH said it had only received about 1,300 doses from the state so far. Health authorities in Harris and Tarrant counties, while larger, received more than 10,000 doses.

“I can’t explain how the state is prioritizing vaccines,” said Adler. “It is not real transparent to someone who is outside the system.”

Since last week, we’ve asked the Texas Department of State Health Services about how providers are prioritized for the vaccine. On Monday, a spokesperson got back to us.

“When they enroll online as a COVID-19 vaccine provider, providers are asked about a variety of populations that they serve,” said the spokesperson. “There are reasons why this can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

For example, she said some local health departments may serve as the vaccine provider for the first responders in their jurisdiction, and some first responder organizations may enroll to be providers themselves.

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