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Hundreds line up for Covid vaccines from Austin Public Health. But the wait was ‘worth it.’

Friday, January 15, 2021 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Frank Kucharski and his wife, Jill Jones, were near the back of the line that wove around an Austin Public Health vaccination center at least twice in Northeast Austin on Thursday. They estimated they had a three-hour wait ahead of them – but at least the weather was nice.

“I’m glad it’s a sunny day, and we’re retired and we really want that vaccine,” Kucharski, 70, said. “There’s no way we were going to turn around and go home.”

“We’re here for the long haul,” Jones added.

Thursday was the first day people who got an appointment through APH’s vaccine registration site, which went live Tuesday night, could get the coronavirus vaccine. Earlier in the week, APH officials were only vaccinating those who had been referred to them through community organizations that serve people without health insurance.

Per state guidelines, the agency is only offering vaccines to people in the 1A and 1B priority groups. That includes health care workers, people over 65 and those with chronic health conditions.

Originally, APH offered people specific appointment times. But because of a “scheduling error,” the public health agency sent out an email Thursday morning telling those with appointments that they could instead come anytime between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and they would be guaranteed a shot. APH later extended the time to 9 p.m.

The result: Hundreds of people showed up at once to the Delco Activity Center. While many were happy to wait for hours, others wondered if there was a more efficient way to vaccinate people.

“I was wondering whose brilliant idea this was,” Phyllis Jordan, 77, said. “What was the purpose of having an appointment?”

The agency has stressed that no one will be vaccinated without an appointment, although it diverged from protocol Tuesday when its employees vaccinated some people who simply showed up. This later created some confusion for others.

On Thursday, people began forming a line around noon, two hours before the first doses would be given. So, when Dan Davidson, 67, got there a little past 2 p.m., he had a long wait ahead of him.

“Better than the option of not having a shot at all,” he said.

Linda Dark, 69, came prepared with a black folding chair. She planned to use her imagination to get through the wait.

“If we can just pretend we’re going to some fabulous show or concert and we’re getting tickets – we’re getting tickets for Hamilton. We just have to wait in line for four hours to get our Hamilton tickets, and then we’ll be so happy and so envied,” she said.

APH said as of Wednesday night, it had distributed 3,996 of the 12,000 doses it received from the state earlier this week. The agency plans to distribute the remaining doses by Saturday. It’s unclear when and how many more doses the agency will receive.

Despite the long wait Thursday, there was a feeling of celebration in the air. When people who had just gotten their shots walked out the exit door, those still waiting in line cheered them on.

Nina Trybala, 77, who was in line with Dark, said the hours-long wait was “worth it.” The two have grand plans for when they get closer to full immunity.

“When we get our second shot, we go for happy hour afterward,” she said.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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