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Removing Barriers To Vaccine A Top Priority As Supply Exceeds Demand Through Austin Public Health

A drive-through mass vaccine clinic at the Circuit of the Americas in February.
Julia Reihs
Workers direct cars through a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Circuit of the Americas in February.

Austin Public Health is hosting a walk-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Delco Activity Center this Thursday and Friday from noon until 7:30 p.m. or until all its vaccines are administered.

Vaccines will be available to all residents age 18 and older. No appointment is needed. If supplies run out, Austin Public Health said, staff will help schedule appointments for those who show up.

APH currently only offers the Moderna vaccine, so any 16- and 17-year-olds who want to get vaccinated must find a provider elsewhere.

The clinic is part of a larger APH effort to reach out to communities that have been overlooked throughout the vaccine rollout process and remove barriers to access.

In another move, Austin Public Health left its online scheduler open longer than usual last week. Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said 4,300 appointments were scheduled between Saturday and Tuesday morning.

During a presentation to Austin City Council and Travis County commissioners Tuesday, she acknowledged more needs to be done to reach out to the community rather than relying on people to navigate the website as the health department struggles to fill appointments.

District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes asked if the online portal could be left open indefinitely, removing another obstacle to getting a shot.

“It seems the issue here is that our supply is far greater than the demand,” she said. “So why not have it open 24/7 so that anyone who wants a vaccine can schedule their appointment?”

APH later announced the online portal would be open Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m. and left open through Friday at 7 a.m. After that, the portal will be open from Fridays at 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following Friday, giving the health department a 1`2-hour window to finalize appointments.

People who cannot access the online scheduling system can call 311 or 512-974-2000 for help getting an appointment.

Austin Public Health is also looking to expand its community-based partnerships to take advantage of the existing trust between these organizations and the people they serve.

“Those voices that we hear from the community [are] very important,” Hayden-Howard said. “I think one of the things that we really need to look into a little more is: Are there additional grassroots organizations that we need to [work with]?”

Council Member Greg Casar, who represents District 4, also pushed the idea of meeting people where they are by bringing vaccines to already scheduled events such as meal pickups. But he stressed the need to provide advance notice.

“In the past, we didn’t want to let people know of things way too long in advance if we had very little vaccine,” Casar said, “because you’d worry about having a line that’s four times too long, or you disappoint a lot of people and continue to propagate the problem of people feeling rejected from the vaccine. That’s not where, my sense is, we are anymore.”

The seven-day moving averages for new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area has gone up since last week.

Dr. Mark Escott, the city’s interim medical director, previously had said projections showed the area could move down a risk level by the end of this month or early May. Slight increases in the numbers have made that transition more unlikely in the coming weeks.

Escott said one reason for the fluctuations is that businesses have opened back up to full operating capacity.

“I think that’s exactly why we’re seeing this long lasting plateau that is still leaving us in a position to experience a surge,” he said. “We cannot be in a race to normalcy and get ahead of ourselves.”

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at Follow him on Twitter@jerryquijano.

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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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