The short line outside of the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center looks longer because of social distancing. Some of the first citizens in Lubbock to get the coronavirus vaccine seem to be taking no chances when they’re this close to pandemic relief.
Once inside, Lubbock Health Department Director Katherine Wells said people fill out a one-page form. The city is operating on trust with the people currently eligible to be vaccinated- citizens don’t need to bring any documents.
“So all of these people are sitting here doing their paperwork,” Wells said as she walked through the exhibit hall. “They go up to the end, they get in line, and they go over to our vaccine area.”
They get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Wait 15 or so minutes to see if they have any immediate reactions, then they’re on their way. They even get a lollipop and sticker. Wells said most people were through in around 30 minutes.
John Elliott, who’s over the age of 65, falls into the 1B category for vaccine distribution in Texas. He heard from a friend that the city-run clinic was taking walk-in patients towards the end of its open hours. He rushed to the Civic Center and was in-and-out.
“Didn’t take long,” he said. “It was great.”
Still, there have been some frustrations with the city’s process.
Thomas Suarez estimates he called the health department 900 times in one day to try to get an appointment at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
“I decided to start using my Skype account. Started calling with two phones,” Suarez said. “I was able to get about one phone call out every two seconds between hanging up and dialing again.”
The city’s phone system was overwhelmed with callers also trying to book a slot, the only way to get an appointment that day. Each time Suarez dialed, he got a busy tone.
Suarez is also in the 1B group, which includes people over the age of 16 with high risk conditions. He’s a 38-year-old full-time student at Texas Tech University who has qualifying respiratory health issues.
“The pandemic has pretty much locked me down in my house,” he said.
He struggled with personal and professional losses last year. Now that the coronavirus vaccine is becoming available, he has some hope. Family members elsewhere in the state have gotten their first dose. But Suarez is still waiting. All appointments were again filled the second day he tried to book.
“I think if I was vaccinated, I mean, it would eventually impact my life greatly,” he said.
Lubbock leaders are working to fix these disparities. At a recent news conference, Mayor Dan Pope announced a new way to sign up for a free vaccination appointment online.
“Through our Select-a-Seat capabilities. Remember that’s our ticketing that we use for events,” Pope said. “We’re not doing any events right now, but this is a free event. If you have a ticket, you’re going to have a time to get vaccinated.”
Appointments available on the first day of online scheduling were booked in an hour. But phone lines didn’t crash.
These are issues Health Department Director Wells said are easier to fix. She said her biggest challenge right now is not having enough doses to meet demand.
“We can vaccinate 200, 300 people an hour,” Wells said. “If I can have more supply, we can open up more appointments.”
So far the health department has incolulated over 4,500 people. In fact, the city has given more vaccines than the state has provided them. Local hospitals shared their allotments.
As Texas makes the coronavirus vaccine available to more groups, local health departments are figuring out how to administer doses as quickly and as safely as possible.
Lubbock schedules a clinic within 24 hours of receiving doses then closes until they get more supply. They expect more doses to be available starting next week and hope to have clinics four or five days a week. Amarillo has gone with a similar tactic, but on a larger scale due to the thousands of doses they’ve received.
Hays County in Central Texas, for example, is for now relying on hospitals and pharmacies to get shots out.
Mayor Pope says he thinks Lubbock’s large-scale public clinic approach will soon be seen statewide.
As of Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services data shows more than 527,000 Texans have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including over 11,700 in Lubbock. The vaccine rollout is going slower than originally anticipated nationwide.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at [email protected] Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.