AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a rocky start to Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout this week, people reported things are moving a lot smoother and wait times are down Friday.
APH is currently using two locations to distribute vaccines. At 12:45 p.m. Friday, the health agency reported on social media wait times were about 30 minutes to an hour.
KXAN viewers also said Friday there were more efficient lines, and that the process was “organized” and “professional.” Another viewer called APH a “fantastic organization” and said the process had an “amazing flow.”
Long lines, tech issues this week
There were some hiccups for APH. On Thursday, those who were able to schedule an appointment for a shot were notified by APH they should show up during a five-hour window instead. The agency clarified this was due to a glitch that resulted in overscheduled appointments.
Long lines were seen wrapping around buildings.
APH also dealt with other technical issues Thursday, saying too many people were crashing its online pre-registration system. Health officials reminded Austinites to be patient, as their teams worked around the clock to fix the problems.
Lastly, APH had problems with those not in priority groups jumping in line to get vaccinated. The agency disclosed it gave shots to some people not in Phase 1A or 1B who had been waiting in line out of “common courtesy.” Leaders said this wouldn’t happen again, and proof of appointment will be needed moving forward.
The agency is trying to distribute all 12,000 of its current doses by Saturday. By the end of the day Thursday, APH reported administering 7,016 doses.
APH has also been able to give more vaccines now than it was at the beginning of the week. The agency said it’s planning to split the nearly 5,000 doses left between Friday and Saturday.
But some people are still having trouble. Hospice nurse Joseph King has been trying to get a shot for his husband, a disabled veteran, for nearly a month now.
“He’s oxygen dependent, he’s had four heart stints… multiple health problems,” King said. “If he gets it, he most likely — it would probably kill him.”
King says he tried to transfer his vaccine appointment with Austin Regional Clinic about two weeks ago.
“I would give up my vaccine, if I could have, for him,” he said.
Since his husband is an ex-Marine, King also called several Veterans Affairs departments — even willing to go back to their home city of Oklahoma — with no luck.
“Right now, I think people are discouraged. They don’t know what to do. Lack of information, lack of doses.”
APH reported all appointments for this week are filled, but people can still pre-register online to have their name on file for when appointments do reopen. The agency also explained if anyone sees a screen asking them to sign up for the vaccine but showed nothing available, it means there were no appointments left, but they have been successfully pre-registered and do not need to do anything else.
For now, King plans to take his chances waiting in line at the Waco VA department on Saturday, hoping his husband’s portable oxygen will last long enough to get him into a seat.
“He can recharge the batteries if they get low and see how many hours we have to wait,” King said.
Comparing San Antonio’s vaccine rollout
KXAN wanted to see what other cities were doing for their vaccine rollout.
The San Antonio Metro Health Department partnered with WellMed Medical Management to administer their 18,000 doses from the state.
While the health department allowed both online and phone registration, like Austin, WellMed only allowed phone registration for their 9,000 vaccines.
Jimmie Keenan, RN and senior vice president of enterprise clinic operations, said they wanted to “level the playing field” for underserved community members who didn’t have access to high-speed internet or were not tech savvy.
Both groups also said there was no glitch in overscheduling and no walk-up patients were accepted, resulting in no lines this week.
“When you have people congregate like that, you put yourself at risk to have a super-spreader event,” Keenan said.
She says moving forward, they are trying to get more phone operators.
“Some people have dialed the line or attempted to call 400 times, some 125 times,” said the retired Army major general and former chief of the Army Nursing Corps.
But she still believes WellMed and San Antonio have streamlined the vaccination process that others can also implement, including Austin, where WellMed also operates.
“We have got to have a coordinated response,” she said.
APH said they utilized community partners like CommUnityCare during the first three days of vaccine distribution. However, they did not answer KXAN when asked if those partnerships would continue for mass distribution, like WellMed’s partnership in San Antonio.
APH also says they have not yet received word from the state about if or when they might more vaccines.
San Antonio’s health department tells us they already received 9,000 more doses for next week as well as another 9,000 for WellMed to administer. They are already taking appointments.