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Despite Expanded Eligibility, Vaccine Appointments Through Austin Public Health Go Unfilled

Gabriel C. Pérez

Lee esta historia en español.

The director of Austin Public Health says the department needs to change its process to reach and vaccinate more people in Austin and Travis County after nearly 3 out of 4 first-dose coronavirus vaccine appointments released Monday went unfilled.

"In conversations with some of my colleagues across the state of Texas, a lot of us are getting to a point where we're going to have to pivot and change strategies," Stephanie Hayden-Howard told a joint session of the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. "Because now we're at a point where there is more vaccine that is readily available in our community. So we must be strategic and start [making] those changes."

After Austin Public Health expanded eligibility to all adults, 14,000 appointments were made available Monday, but only about 3,400 appointments were scheduled.

More first-dose vaccine appointments will be available through the health department's online portal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said changes need to be made to the way Austin Public Health is reaching out to communities because its current system of scheduling vaccines is simply not working.

"A lot of what we're doing is wonderful and great, but it's from the approach that it's on the individual to come to us," Fuentes said. "I really would like us to move to a more neighborhood model approach where we go into neighborhoods. Get off of the online system, go offline and reduce that barrier."

Austin Public Health has four vans that can be deployed to administer mobile vaccines. Fuentes says that's a good start, but she doesn't believe that's enough to meet the current needs of area residents.

"We have at least 11 zip codes in our area that do not have a single provider," Fuentes said. "We really need to be mobilizing hand-in-hand with our community organizations, our trusted partners that can be the messengers and the advocates and the vaccine navigators to go into those neighborhoods to let folks know where to go for their vaccine."

Hayden-Howard said Austin Public Health is looking at ways to vaccinate people at sites like apartment complexes and Austin Independent School District meal pickups, rather than requiring them to sign up online through what has become a frustrating process for many people.

Fuentes says the health department should also be looking for ways to work with nonprofits that are already familiar with the needs of the community, saying it makes a difference when people "recognize the face that's telling them about the vaccine or how to get registered."

"We really need to shift the approach and meet our community where our community resides versus having them figure out a website," she said.

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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