Dozens Wait Outside Austin Public Health COVID-19 Vaccination Site, Buoyed By Thought Of 'Extra' Doses
Maggie McConnell brought a neon pink collapsible chair with her to a school recreation center in Northeast Austin. By noon she had yet to unfurl it, caught in rapid conversation with people waiting in a line that wrapped around the building.
The talk? How confusing finding a vaccine in Austin has been.
“[My daughter’s] friend’s neighbor told her they were giving vaccines, and they were giving vaccines to that 1B category and also there was a line for everybody,” McConnell, 74, said. The 1B category includes people over 65 and those with chronic medical conditions.
“Since I don’t have very much to do today and the weather is nice and I brought my chair, I figure I might as well wait and see what happens," she said.
McConnell and at least 100 others showed up to the Delco Activity Center on Wednesday morning, hoping history would repeat itself. The day before, according to numerous secondhand reports, people without an appointment who waited in line – regardless of age or medical condition – were able to get vaccinated when Austin Public Health realized it had extra doses.
Without confirming the location, APH acknowledged Wednesday that a day earlier at least some people not currently prioritized to get the vaccine had received it. It did not answer additional questions by email.
“Ultimately, our goal is that we’re not going to waste vaccine,” Stephanie Hayden, director of APH, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “We had people that were in the line that had stayed in the line and so out of a common courtesy we decided to go ahead and provide that vaccine to them out of being courteous to them. In the future, we have to just emphasize that is not going to be the case moving forward.”
APH received 12,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week from Texas’ health department, as part of the state’s plan to create vaccination “hubs.” So far, the state has relied heavily on private providers, including grocery stores and pharmacies, to vaccinate people; the strategy has raised concerns since these types of businesses are hard to find in low-income neighborhoods of color.
APH’s hope is to hit those areas. Tuesday night it unveiled a website where people can input their information and, if they're eligible, make an appointment to get vaccinated. The public health authority has said right now it will follow the state’s guidelines and vaccinate people in 1A and 1B priority groups, with a focus on vulnerable residents, like those without health insurance. A spokesperson told KUT Wednesday they would start vaccinating those with appointments at the Delco Activity Center on Thursday.
APH said the city’s vaccine stock is limited and is encouraging people to be patient.
“We know the vaccine’s here. We know there’s an overwhelming need for it and want and desire to get vaccinated in our community,” the city's chief epidemiologist, Janet Pichette, said Wednesday. “Until your time is presented to you to get vaccinated you need to be mindful of those people who are at highest risk and try to allow them to go first.”
“Appointment only” signs dotted the grass around the Delco Activity Center on Wednesday morning. Those who did have appointments, made through community organizations partnering with APH, appeared to walk right in. Those without one were told they would not be getting a vaccine today.
Regardless, they formed a line and hunkered down. Some answered emails on their computers and phones. One man brought an Agatha Christie novel and a stool. Many said they would not leave until they got a vaccine.
But APH said what happened Tuesday would not happen again.
“This is a message to anyone that is going to show up there today and anticipate that they will receive a vaccine: We cannot provide you a vaccine if you do not have an appointment,” Hayden said. “Moving forward, we will not be able to provide vaccines to individuals that show up at those sites and don’t have an appointment.”
Several people who waited in line Wednesday said they eventually left after being told there would likely not be any vaccines for those without an appointment. One woman texted a KUT reporter Wednesday afternoon to say she was still waiting in line, holding out for any extra doses.
As for McConnell, she did not get lucky.
"Obviously, demand exceeds supply," she texted. "I think the rollout of vaccines is pretty chaotic and not well thought out. It's roll of the dice out there."
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