AUSTIN (KXAN) — People who had pre-registered for a vaccine appointment on Wednesday say they woke up with an unexpected change on Thursday morning.
Instead of keeping to a scheduled date and time, Austin Public Health instructed people to show up during a five-hour window. It said in the notification the reason was because of increased demand. An APH spokesperson later clarified that there was a scheduling error with the program that overscheduled one time slot and so it decided to encourage people to come when they are available to minimize wait times for everyone. It estimated people with appointments could expect lines of 30 minutes to an hour.
“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 [Thursday] to shorten wait times and ensure social distancing can be maintained,” the notification about the vaccine schedule change at the Delco Center said.
APH also noted appointments for its two Thursday locations filled up and said those without them will be turned away. The large distribution centers in the area are meant to distribute the 12,000 doses Austin and Travis County received this week, which is not enough to cover all those in Phase 1A and 1B who still need to be vaccinated.
People wrote in to KXAN, saying they were worried the schedule change could cause a flood of vaccine recipients to a location all at once instead of strategically separating the appointment times, thereby minimizing traffic flow and enabling proper social distancing in line.
“Can you imagine the horde of people that will be there before 2 p.m.? What could have been an orderly and safe process will now be a chaotic mess. What excuse can they make? They are not protecting the public health,” one KXAN viewer wrote.
Viewers say a line was already forming at the Delco location around 9 a.m. A video from a vaccine recipient at a different location showed a line that stretched around the building. Later in the day, multiple lines formed at the sites.
Meanwhile, APH sent out a news release Thursday afternoon about it’s “successful” pilot distribution program. It said so far it’s distributed 3,996 total doses as of Wednesday night and plans to distribute the rest this week. It said the first three days of the distribution have been “closed clinics serving Phase 1A and 1B patients from community partners that serve uninsured or underinsured populations, including CommUnityCare, Lone Star Circle of Care, and the People’s Community Clinic. This has helped to ensure that those who are most vulnerable to complications and death from COVID-19, as well as those who would not be able to get a vaccine from the more than 350 other providers in Austin-Travis County, are able to get vaccinated.”
“Based on operations this week, APH will make improvements if needed and will be prepared to distribute future allocations,” it wrote.
APH said 2,480 vaccines were distributed on Monday and Tuesday, while 1,506 were given out Wednesday.
APH is not accepting walk-ups at any of the vaccine clinics. People must pre-register online to allow APH to qualify individuals and schedule an appointment.
“Pre-registration does not guarantee a vaccine immediately,” APH said.
Earlier this week, APH said it had vaccinated people who were not in the Phase 1A or 1B priority list out of “common courtesy,” because they had waited in line. On Thursday morning, alternate health authority Dr. Jason Pickett said that would not happen again. In a release Thursday afternoon, APH called it a miscommunication and walk-ups would be turned away moving forward.