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Waiting for a vaccine appointment from Austin Public Health? Here’s what we know so far.

Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Austin Public Health’s vaccine registration process has caused a bit of confusion. People have told KUT they’re experiencing technical difficulties with the signup portal or they’re frustrated because they’ve signed up but haven’t been able to snag an appointment yet.

APH officials provided some insight into how this process is working during a briefing with Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. Here’s what we gleaned.

To be considered for a vaccine from Austin Public Health, you need to create an APH account and “pre-register,” meaning you’re signing up to be put on a list for a vaccine. Here’s where to do all that. When it’s your turn to schedule an appointment, APH will reach out to you to schedule one.

APH is determining eligibility based on this flowchart. (Note: APH made a correction to the chart saying insurance is not a factor in eligibility.) If it’s not your time to get a vaccine, you’ll be put on a waitlist.

So, let’s say you qualify based on the flowchart. Maybe you’re over 65 or you’re 50 and have a medical condition. You might be wondering, why hasn’t APH contacted me yet?

Well, as of Tuesday, more than 188,000 people were registered and eligible for a vaccine from APH – so even if you are eligible, you may be waiting a bit. APH has been getting only 12,000 doses a week. When appointments open up, APH is not reaching out to all those 188,000+ people, APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said Tuesday.

People APH considers to have the highest need will receive an email two hours in advance letting them know appointments will be opening, she said. These are typically people who belong to groups that have been most disproportionately represented in Covid hospitalization data, such as older individuals and people of color. APH uses a point system to rank priority.

Appointments will be posted only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from now on. That way, APH says, people don’t have to keep checking back.

BUT, APH cannot restrict access to signups to those in phase 1A and 1B. So, anyone registered with APH and eligible to get a vaccine under state guidelines can log in to the portal Tuesdays and Thursdays and check for appointments; they just won’t be getting an advance email from APH until they’re higher on the list.

Hayden-Howard cautioned that APH cannot restrict access. “Once we restrict access, then the state of Texas has the potential to step in and we cannot receive the vaccines. So, we have to create a process where we have people that are eligible where they have a platform where they can sign on.”

Once posted, appointments typically fill up within a couple of hours.

People who don’t have access to the internet and want to get a vaccine through APH can call 512-972-5560. Hayden-Howard said APH is trying to keep that line open for those without internet access, so if you’re having other issues with your account and are looking for help, call 311. (If you’re not in Austin, call 512-974-2000.)

An additional call center offering services in Spanish and English is expected to launch next week to help people with the vaccine registration process. This will allow APH to call more people to schedule appointments over the phone, rather than having to go online. Hayden-Howard said the agency will at first target people 80 and older and those who have had challenges trying to register.

The Travis County Commissioners Court approved the funding for this additional call center Tuesday. It will be staffed by former temporary employees from the county Elections Division and Austin Public Health employees.

APH says it will contact people when it’s time to get their second dose. As of Wednesday, APH still had not received allocations of second doses from the state. You must receive your first dose from APH in order to be eligible for a second dose from the agency.

Correction: A previous version of this story had an incorrect APH phone number for those without internet access. We have also replaced the previous vaccine eligibility flowchart shared by Austin Public Health with an updated version.

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

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