A troubling week proves that Dallas County needs to rethink its vaccination system
North Texas started the week with a massive mood lift: the opening of the Fair Park COVID-19 vaccination megasite in South Dallas, which promised to poke thousands of guns a week, marking the beginning of the end of a universal nightmare.
This mood booster soon turned into a headache attributable to communication errors. Although thousands were vaccinated at the site, district officials have hampered efforts and created confusion by failing to contact vaccine registrants and giving mixed messages about who might get the shots. The week took a nosedive on Thursday when a leaked letter revealed an ugly fight between Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Dr. Dallas county health director Philip Huang said the county only sent appointments to seniors 75 years and older this week. But younger people showed up at Fair Park after an unsecured web link to book an appointment was posted on social media and newsletters, Jenkins said. The district rejected those who were not eligible to participate and caused an excess of vaccines. Jenkins said he had tacitly contacted citizens who could trick seniors from underserved communities into coming to Fair Park without an appointment to get a shot.
As the news spread beyond Jenkins’ audience, members of the Dallas City Council said they and their constituents felt that anyone over 75 could go to Fair Park, or that only those with the right connections could. The contradictions confused residents and understandably angered Dallas city guides.
We do not question that district officials under severe pressure are acting in good faith to improve access to disadvantaged residents. But it is clear that the current system, if you can call it that, is not working.
Dallas County needs a solid plan based on a database that will allow the public to sign up for the vaccine now. Information gathered through the registration process would help the county plan for future vaccination phases.
We find that state decisions about vaccine allocation are fluid, but the public deserves to have an idea of what to expect. A better system would at least send an automatic response to the county registrants to confirm that they are on the waiting list and let them know that it could take weeks or months to get an appointment depending on the priority status. That might not be the answer people want, but they wouldn’t be left completely in the dark.
There is no doubt that Fair Park’s Vaccination Center is a win for our region, but this week’s troubles show the need for a local approach that brings vaccine closer to disenfranchised neighborhoods, possibly through the opening of registration or Inoculation centers in community centers and churches.
Of course, a well-run system will not come cheap, and local governments rely on cash. We encourage officials to use the expertise and philanthropic spirit in this region to fill the gaps and offer resources that keep the momentum going.
We also urge our heads of government to work out their differences. We understand Johnson’s frustration with the county’s lack of communication this week and he is right to ask for clarification, but an email fight is the last thing Dallas area residents need. Texas is watching.
We expect constructive support from city and district officials who will create a better system. The vaccine brought us hope; Let’s not destroy that by undermining public confidence in its spread.