City Hall

Poor Communication at All Levels of Government Fuels Confusion over COVID Shots

As long lines grew at the mega center at Fair Park, some worried they wouldn't make their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
As long lines grew at the mega center at Fair Park, some worried they wouldn't make their COVID-19 vaccine appointments. Daniels Schludi via Unsplash
It turns out distributing a vaccine is tough work, especially when city and county officials aren't talking to each other. Drama broke out last week between Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins over how inoculations were being delivered at the mega center in Fair Park.

Poor communication between the Trump administration and the states also added to confusion over who can get a vaccine and when nationally, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Dallas residents were initially told they needed to be registered and have an appointment to be vaccinated at the mega center in Fair Park. However, in a letter obtained by The Dallas Morning News from Johnson to the county judge and City Council members, the mayor said Jenkins was allowing unregistered people to walk up to the site for a vaccination and that this change hadn’t been communicated to the city.

Instead, Johnson said he was alerted to the change in requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine by a Dallas resident. “I was certainly not aware of this change in my capacity as the Emergency Management Director for the City of Dallas,” Johnson said in the letter.

Johnson alleged that Jenkins communicated this change to a select group of residents and that the judge requested the information not be widely disseminated. The mayor said he was open to this change, but he was concerned about the way it was made.

“However, I find it incredibly disappointing, especially as vaccine supply remains limited, that Dallas County — without consultation with your partners at the City of Dallas, who have supplied personnel for the site — would tell the public-at-large that they need to register for appointments while simultaneously attempting a word-of-mouth approach that gives preferential treatment to people who happen to know the right people,” Johnson said.

Following the change, Johnson said the city received numerous calls from residents who had been on the waitlist to get vaccinated but were not informed they could walk up to the site to get the vaccination.

But Jenkins said the mayor’s letter is inaccurate. He said they reached out to seniors in underserved and hard hit ZIP codes after a council member shared a back link to sign up for appointments which resulted in Monday-Wednesday spots being filled by people who didn’t receive an invite for an appointment. “That group was overwhelmingly white, under 75 and from the city’s most affluent ZIP codes,” Jenkins said.

The unauthorized appointments weren’t honored Tuesday and Wednesday, but staff at the site did not administer as many vaccines as they expected to on those days as a result. Jenkins said they enlisted southern Dallas churches, health centers, senior centers and other partners serving Black and Hispanic residents to remedy the disparities caused by the unauthorized appointments.

“Your and other’s decision earlier today to broadcast that vaccines are available to anyone over 75 without an appointment has undermined that effort and made it less likely the vaccine will get to the people at the highest risk in the hardest hit, most underserved ZIP codes this week,” Jenkins wrote Johnson.

"I'm really worried about people that had later appointments." – Rita Clausen

tweet this
On Friday, the mega center at Fair Park took people 75 or older to be vaccinated without an appointment from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anastacia Quinones-Pittman, a Dallas resident, took her parents to the site to get the vaccine that day. Quinones-Pittman said the place was packed. She and her parents sat in a static line for about two hours before being able to start the process to get vaccinated. "We didn't know what was ahead," Quinones-Pittman said. She said the wait was so long people were peeing in the streets. Quinones-Pittman and her parents eventually made it through the line to get vaccinated before the gates were closed.

Despite the frustration over the wait, she said she was impressed with how professional and organized the staff at the site was.

Rita Clausen, another Dallas resident, said her mom could have missed her appointment Friday because of all the walk ups. She was scheduled for her vaccination at 1:30 p.m. She showed up at 9 a.m. and didn't leave until 2 p.m. If she had arrived closer to her appointment, Clausen said her mom may not have been able to get vaccinated that day. She's not sure others were so lucky. "I'm really worried about people that had later appointments," Clausen said.

This wasn’t the only vaccination mishap last week, though.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced last Tuesday that the federal government would be releasing a stockpile of vaccine doses, making some state health officials think they were about to get a boost in their supply. As it turns out, this wasn’t the case.

The “stockpile of vaccine doses” actually only consisted of booster shots for those who had already received a dose of the vaccine, according to The Washington Post.

Both of the vaccines being distributed in the U.S. require a two-dose regimen. People are administered their second dose three weeks after the first one. President Donald Trump’s administration’s policy was to delay the distribution of the second dose to prevent possible disruptions to vaccine manufacturing.

But, according to The Washington Post, Operation Warp Speed, which oversees the vaccine distribution, quit stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of last year, and the last of the Moderna shots were shipped over the weekend.

In an email to the Observer, Rocky Vaz, the city's emergency management coordinator, said the first allocation of doses to Dallas and the current allocation to the county came from the state. Vaz added that he is not aware of how the federal allocation was communicated to the state. Despite the Trump administration's mishap, he said the state has assured him that Dallas will still be receiving its second shipment of 2,000 doses to complete the two-step vaccine process. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn