‘I am sorry:’ Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson apologizes to those turned away from getting COVID-19 vaccine
Less than a week after the city opened a COVID-19 vaccination site to the public, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson apologized Monday to residents, who were turned away from the convention center that weekend after many thought they were would have booked valid dates.
At a press conference, Johnson assured that city officials were working on a solution that would prevent more than one person from registering for the vaccine through a customized link. However, this could take a few days.
The city opened its vaccination site at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center to the public on Thursday after receiving 5,000 doses from the state.
Officials had said last week that only people who received a text, email, or phone call from the city of Dallas could set up a drive-through appointment to receive the vaccine. The invitations would be sent to people who had already registered for a vaccine with Dallas County.
On Thursday and Friday alone, the city estimated that about 40% of people who showed up for appointments each day were denied a vaccine because the city failed to invite them to make an appointment, said Rocky Vaz, Dallas’ emergency director. The city had no estimates of how many were turned away on Saturday. Many also showed up without even registering. In addition, hundreds of people with valid appointments were turned away on Saturday because the city had already run out of vaccines.
“While we tried hard we couldn’t weed out enough people who had made unauthorized appointments,” Johnson said, adding that the city had previously picked registration lists to ensure those with a valid appointment would get a vaccine.
“We had thousands of them, and we still had a lot of people who ignored the cancellation or who unfortunately didn’t see their cancellation when they were already in line.”
The city has also overestimated how many people it can vaccinate in a day, Johnson said.
“To everyone who has stood in line for hours, I want to say I’m sorry,” said Johnson. “We are sorry.”
Vaz said Monday that the city hasn’t made enough changes to the third-party scheduling software they use.
The vacancies after the city canceled invalid appointments left around 2,700 cans left by Saturday – almost three times as many as originally intended.
“We can’t do 2,700 in a day, especially downtown,” Vaz said.
On Saturday, Dallas Fire-Rescue and the city’s emergency department worked 12 hours to distribute the remaining vaccines – an extension of the planned nine-hour day.
According to Roxana Rubio, a city spokeswoman, the city has sent 10,000 invitations to register for the 5,000 vaccines.
In the end, the city distributed a total of 5,257 cans. Each vial is labeled with 10 doses, but some allow an additional or two, Rubio said. 1,171 doses were administered on Thursday; 1,351 cans on Friday; and 2,735 cans given on Saturday.
Other issues plagued the city’s location: There were 450 people who either had valid appointments and were turned away on Saturday or were invited by the city to register for vaccines and couldn’t make an appointment. Rubio said they will be given priority this week to get vaccines.
The city is working with the county “to be part of a more robust system” that includes people using unique, fast-response barcodes that would allow one-time use, Vaz said, adding that he doesn’t know when to do this would happen and running.
“We’re sorry. This is a new system. This is a new process,” Vaz told the Dallas Morning News. “But we said from the start that it was by invitation only and that the invitation you received , is for your use only.
“People who chose to share the link are doing a disservice to the rest of the residents who have been registered and invited for a month.”
Cecilia Galbraith said she was unaware that she had to be informed by the city first that she could register for a vaccine appointment. She said she was grateful when a friend forwarded a link to sign up, and she looked forward to her 4:50 pm Friday appointment to get her first dose.
Nothing on the city’s news confirming their deadline warned against sharing links or missing those deadlines.
She waited in line for about 50 minutes before learning that her appointment was not valid.
“It was disappointing,” said Galbraith, 68. “Everyone is very concerned about getting vaccinated, so it’s not surprising that links are shared.”
Boris and Joan Gremont hooked up Friday morning to schedule vaccination appointments at the convention center. They received texts and emails from the city confirming their times for the recording – Joan, 71, at 3:15 p.m. and Boris, 73, at 3:25 p.m.
They planned to go to Austin two weeks after the second dose to visit their son and his family. They also made plans to visit their daughter and family in Washington, DC, in April to do their granddaughter’s bat mitzvah.
The Far North Dallas couple left more than an hour early to make sure they were on time. When the couple checked in after waiting 90 minutes in front of the drive-through vaccination station parking garage, they were told that while the city’s confirmation was legitimate, they were not on the list to receive a dose that day. They were also told they should never have received confirmation from the city.
“When we booked our appointments, I thought we had taken over the world and we went out to celebrate for the first time since our lockdown,” said Boris Gremont, who said he did not know he was contacted by the must be city first for vaccines.
He said he and his wife were registered to receive vaccines in, where they live, Collin Counties, as well as Dallas, Tarrant and Denton counties.
“We have gone from pure elation about our happiness to pure desolation about our happiness. How could the city just let that happen? “
“It just shakes your confidence in the whole system.”
They have since canceled their travel plans.
More cans, new plan
This week, the city received 4,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the state. Three thousand of these are being distributed by the Methodist Dallas Medical Center at Oak Cliff.
The city will vaccinate 2,000 people at the convention center on Wednesday and Thursday. Methodist will distribute the remaining cans to town Thursday and Friday.
Methodist’s Oak Cliff site was the first north Texas hospital to receive vaccination doses in early December, and Pam Stoyanoff, president of the health system, said she was confident that her staff’s distribution system was effective.
Stoyanoff said Methodist would get a list of registrants from the city, and after they were entered into the hospital’s database, a calling system would notify people of their appointments.
“We’ll push [calls] instead of people coming to us to make sure only those on the list actually get the appointment, ”said Stoyanoff, who is also the chief operating officer for the healthcare system.
Similarly, Johnson urged people not to show up to the convention center this week unless they receive an invitation direct from the city of Dallas.
“I know this is tough,” said Johnson. “We currently have massive demand for vaccines. But we just don’t have enough supplies to get around. As much as it pains me to tell people to wait, we just have to wait. “