By Ashley Moss
In their first meeting of 2021, the Black COVID-19 Task Force for the City of Dallas, under the leadership of Dallas City Councilman Casey Thomas, met Tuesday [January 12th] to gauge the response to the initial vaccine distribution.
Their verdict? Things aren’t working.
A vaccine mega-site opened Monday at Fair Park, located just east of Downtown Dallas. Due to limited quantities of the vaccine, doses are currently reserved for people over the age of 75, followed by others who fit into Phase 1B designation.
On the first day the site was open the location stayed open past its standard hours and managed to vaccinate around 1600 people in the joint effort between the City of Dallas and Dallas County.
The entities hope to repeat those numbers if not exceed them each day for the rest of the week, but for a site that was reportedly organized with high-risk communities in mind—namely Black and Latino populations, the current outreach and communication strategies don’t seem to be working.
Critics say there’s still a great deal of confusion around just about everything related to the process that makes it hard for residents to take advantage of what’s available, including registration, how to get an appointment, on-site logistics, and the follow-up process for the second dose of the vaccine.
Mollie Belt, who serves as Publisher for the Dallas Examiner, an African American Newspaper in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, said she tried using the form Dallas County provided twice to sign-up for the vaccine but when she didn’t hear anything back decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I registered on the Dallas County website twice and the second time I did receive a written confirmation, but they never told me where to go,” she said. “I went on my own to Fair Park (to get the vaccine).”
Because of the challenges she had when inquiring about the vaccine, Belt said she reached out to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for assistance.
He told her to immediately get over to the “mega-site.”
Expressing displeasure and citing several obstacles that citizens face, including the digital divide an transportation, Price said he monitored day one at the Fair Park location and said in order to accommodate the “targeted demographic,” he believes, “this process needs to be “first come, first serve.”
“This process as it is presently configured and operating at this moment is inhumane,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “If Black Lives Matter, if Brown Lives Matter, if the lives of the poor and working poor matter, this system needs to be fixed. I call on Judge Jenkins, the Health and Human Services Director, and my colleagues on the court to fix this now.”
Even without a confirmed appointment, but heeding the commissioner’s advice, Belt, who is 77, a diabetic and with numerous other health issues said she breezed right through the entrance once she arrived.
“There’s a large area where they are giving out the vaccine [at Fair Park], but it was only half full and the lines were moving very fast,” she added. “They collected a form from me [when I arrived] but they never asked me for my driver’s license or any identification.”
Belt received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine and before leaving was given an appointment reminder for her second, required immunization next month. She got the help she needed but noted Tuesday that the Black communities might not be getting the message.
There were very few of us,” she said. “I could count the African Americans [I saw in line] on 10 fingers.”
Rocky Vaz, Director of Emergency Management for the City of Dallas, said after a rough start, the effort was headed in the right direction.
“Based on the number of people in the database and the limited vaccine that we have, we are doing what we can,” he added. “But we are reaching out to the minority community, including going into the database to see who is getting notifications to get vaccinated.”
Vaz said ultimately, the plan is to administer to as many as 2,000 people a day at the Fair Park site.
“Yesterday was a mad rush but today we made process improvements to make the process more orderly,” he said in a meeting with the Task Force Tuesday afternoon. “By 1 pm, we did 600 vaccinations and by 5:00 we expect to do many more.”
According to Thomas, the task force meets again in two weeks for updates and to address any other concerns related to the coronavirus. He also urged citizens to get tested.
Registration is still required for the vaccine. To sign up, click here.