Dallas' Vaccine Share Takes Hit Following Decision from State Health Department

Vaccine distribution in North Texas just took a hit.EXPAND
Vaccine distribution in North Texas just took a hit.
Photo by CDC / Courtesy of Unsplash
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Rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, North Texas has faced one roadblock after another — from confusion over registration to delays caused by last week’s deadly winter storm. Now, there’s another hurdle in the way: a cut to the region’s state-provided vaccines.

On Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced that the Fair Park vaccination site had run out of doses. Texas’ health department had decided to redirect 42,000 shots reserved for Dallas and Tarrant counties to other parts of the state.

This week, Dallas County begins its partnership with the federal government for the county’s 17 most underserved ZIP codes, Jenkins said in a tweet. He hopes the Texas Department of State Health Services will reconsider siphoning doses away from Dallas-Fort Worth.

“The state's decision leaves North Texans, who patiently waited on the list, without a likely opportunity to get a shot for several weeks,” Jenkins said.

Last week, Jenkins told the Observer the state’s large-scale weather crisis would likely delay North Texas’ vaccine schedule by 200,000 doses, including 22,000 from Dallas’ Fair Park site. Now, with DSHS’s latest decision, it’s uncertain just how far behind the county’s distribution will lag.

Earlier this month, both Dallas and Tarrant counties had announced a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to open vaccine hubs at Fair Park and Globe Life Field in Arlington. But officials say they weren't aware the move would result in a decrease in state-supplied vaccines to Dallas County Health and Human Services and Tarrant County Public Health.

The state’s health department didn’t return the Observer’s request for comment, but in a statement to NBC5, a spokesperson said FEMA’s effort ensured that vaccines allotted for Dallas and Tarrant counties are “roughly even” with those received over the past few weeks.

More than 84,000 doses had gone to “just three counties,” the statement continued, so the state’s vaccine allocation panel chose to send them elsewhere for more equitable distribution. But Jenkins and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley have both expressed frustration with the sudden shift in plans.

Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County’s health department, told the Observer the two counties will still receive their second-dose allotments; people who have gotten one shot are guaranteed another.

FEMA’s vaccines were originally intended to be used on top of the state’s allocations, Huang said.

“So that’s certainly disappointing given that they were supposed to be additional doses for us to try to address some of the hardest hit populations,” he said.

Last week’s snow and ice already put the county behind in terms of second-dose distribution, but Huang said it’s “catching up quickly.” At the FEMA hubs, around 21,000 people will be vaccinated per week.

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team announced it will increase states’ weekly vaccine supplies to 14.5 million doses beginning next week. That amounts to a nearly 70% increase compared with January.

Jenkins hopes those additional doses will help bolster Texas’ reserve.

“Surely with all this extra vaccine @TexasDSHS can restore and increase the vaccine they have taken from Dallas and Tarrant County hospitals and mass vaccine providers!” he said in a tweet.

During a Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Whitley said officials were told that the FEMA partnership wouldn't change the county's vaccine allotment in “any way, shape or form.”

Overall, Texas received more than 100,000 additional vaccines in week 11 of the state's distribution plan, Whitley told the Observer.

Although he was disappointed to learn of DSHS's decision, Whitley said he wants to “characterize this as a misunderstanding.” Still, Tarrant County lost 14,000 doses this week as a result, he said.

“So that means 14,000 folks who were going to be called [to get vaccinated], won’t get called,” he said.

“Those folks, they’ve been in line — many of them — since December,” he continued, “and we want to get to them as quickly as possible.”

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