DALLAS — Wednesday marked the opening of Dallas’ Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Fair Park.
A team of 137 people, including 72 vaccinators and 70 support staff, set up in South Dallas to administer thousands of shots to eligible residents in 17 zip codes.
“That’s going to help us get to herd immunity,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “It’s going to help us with vaccine hesitancy.”
The partnership with FEMA and Dallas County to distribute vaccinations will go to those in underserved communities. The zip codes include areas in: 75042, 75061, 75150, 75210, 75211, 75212, 75215, 75216, 75217, 75220, 75224, 75227, 75228, 75231, 75237, 75241 and 75243. The site will administer 3,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine per day for three weeks and then give out 3,000 doses of the second shot a day over another three-week period.
“I’m hopeful that we can work with our federal partners to keep that program going, so we get more North Texans vaccinated faster,” Jenkins said.
The program will operate alongside the county’s vaccination distribution. FEMA will pull eligible registrants in Phase 1A or Phase 1B from the county’s registration site.
According to Jenkins, if FEMA ends up with more registrants than they have shots, it will use a vulnerability index to determine who gets the doses. On the other hand, if they have fewer people to register from the 17 zip codes who qualify to receive the vaccine, they’ll look at census tracks in Dallas County and in surrounding counties at 75% of the federal poverty level up to 100%, and the remaining shots will go to people in those areas.
Jenkins encourages residents in those neighborhoods to register as soon as possible, adding that options such as phone banking, door-to-door, and walking through neighborhoods will take place to get people signed up.
Along with Dallas County, Tarrant County was also selected as a FEMA COVID-19 mass vaccination site, with both receiving notification by the state that their doses would get cut.
“We made our case, we presented the facts and we were selected to receive 21,000 vaccines per week in Dallas County and 21,000 vaccines per week in Tarrant County so long as those vaccines go to the most underserved communities in those counties,” said Jenkins of the FEMA partnership.
But now, neither county will obtain the amount initially promised to them.
“So, after we were awarded the allotment for specific underserved communities that are not on our list of registration currently, the state pulled 42,000 vaccine allotments from Dallas and Tarrant County hospitals, cities and counties and mass vaccination sites,” Jenkins said. “Obviously, that’s not right. North Texas should not be punished by the state, because local officials successfully made their pitch to get more vaccines from the Biden administration for people who are in underserved areas off the list.”
Jenkins said to date, 650,000 people remain on the list in Dallas County and 600,000 have signed up to receive the vaccine in Tarrant County. If the decision to cut the vaccines isn’t reversed, he said the wait time for those wanting the vaccine could end up being longer, thus pushing back the county’s chance at reaching herd immunity sooner rather than later.
“Unfortunately, most of North Texas doesn’t live in those zip codes in Dallas and Tarrant County and if the state doesn’t restore the vaccines, it leaves us with the bizarre outcome that middle class and above people who are on the county’s list in Tarrant County and Dallas County will be disadvantaged by the state pulling the vaccine that was allotted for them and sending it to other parts of the state,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that the only locations whose vaccine shipment got cut included Dallas and Tarrant County. He urged residents to reach out to their state representatives to call on Gov. Greg Abbott to restore the vaccines.
“Harris County got a program like this,” said Jenkins of the FEMA partnership. “They did not cut Harris county or any of the other 251 counties, but they did cut Dallas and Tarrant. So, we must continue to serve residents outside of those 17 zip codes and we must serve all residents. So, the state’s cuts will disadvantage residents living in those other zip codes and counties particularly middle class and higher income families. This must be reversed.”
Most, if not all, vaccine distributions in the state halted as Texans sought shelter from last week’s winter storm that left roads impassable, millions without power and water for days in below-freezing temperatures as the state’s electrical grid failed. The storm hit Texas Sunday night, leaving counties like Dallas and others no choice but to close down sites for the week.
“As far as the county allocation, the winter weather significantly impacted our vaccine administration and we’re trying to catch up as soon as we can,” Jenkins said.
On Sunday, Dallas County resumed its distribution efforts at Fair Park, administering a total of 4,800 second doses going into Monday. The South Dallas location closed Tuesday after running out of doses a day prior.
About 15,000 additional second doses were ready for use Wednesday. Only those scheduled to get their second dose February 16 or earlier could receive the shot.
On Thursday, anyone initially supposed to get a shot February 17 or earlier can visit the vaccination site. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one can get their second shot as late as six weeks from the initial dose. So, Jenkins told residents concerned not to worry and insisted they’d get their second shot in enough time, adding that the county will only administer second doses until it's caught up.
“Please bear with us as we catch up everyone on their shots,” he said. “The state has confirmed that we will have sufficient supply of the vaccine to ensure all those who received a first dose will receive the second dose.”
As of now, it’s unclear how many vaccines the county will get next week. But, Jenkins wants the public to come together to petition the state to give back the doses they cut.
“North Texas families have plenty to deal with, right now, he said. “We’ve lost power, our pipes are busted (sic), our houses have been flooded [and] we’ve endured cold. A lot of us don’t have water yet in our homes, some of us are still boiling water, and the last thing we need right now is more bad news from Austin taking our vaccines away. Your parents should not have to wait longer because the state is taking their vaccines and sending it to West Texas.”