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Austin Public Health had 2,800 Covid vaccine appointments left open Thursday

Monday, April 5, 2021 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Austin Public Health opened up Covid-19 vaccine appointments Thursday evening, but by the end of the night, it still had 2,800 appointments available, raising questions about how the agency is distributing doses.

This is the second week in a row it has had unclaimed appointments after a Thursday night release.

Though the state opened up vaccine eligibility to people 16 and older Monday, APH is continuing to prioritize appointments for people in the 1A, 1B and 1C groups, as well as education staff and child care providers.

Nearly all the appointments left open Thursday were for next Tuesday. People will have another chance to sign up for an appointment Monday, APH spokesperson Matt Lara said.

He said APH is discussing when it will expand eligibility, but doesn’t have a date yet.

“That’s very important to Austin Public Health to still reach those people who are at risk for severe disease, especially our older populations,” Lara said. “So, we really want to make sure before we open it to just everybody that these individuals still have the opportunity to schedule appointments.”

APH has been releasing appointments to priority groups registered on its vaccine site weekly on Monday and Thursday evenings.

On Thursday, the agency began releasing appointments at 6 p.m. Just over an hour later, APH tweeted that 4,000 appointments were still available and no one was in the online waiting room.

Several people responded on Twitter saying they were qualified for a vaccine from APH but were having trouble with their accounts or couldn’t get into the waiting room. Many people also responded, saying this was a sign APH should open appointments to all adults, as allowed by the state.

The department’s online portal has come under fire for having technical glitches since its inception in January.

Lara said there were no issues with the system on Thursday, and APH is still looking into why there were so many appointments left over. He said oftentimes people who are eligible aren’t able to schedule an appointment because they typed in the wrong information when registering.

“There’s certain things that can trip people up and cause them not to be eligible when they are actually eligible,” he said. “So, if they forget to put in that eligibility criteria, obviously the account won’t be flagged as being eligible.”

People who think they are eligible for a vaccine from APH but are not able to register for an appointment can reach out to APH via Twitter or Facebook or call 311 for assistance, Lara said.

At 9:38 p.m., APH tweeted that the scheduling portal was closed for the night. But 2,800 appointments had not been filled. The department had 900 unclaimed appointments after last Thursday’s release.

There are 258,000 people in its system eligible for the vaccine (i.e., people in groups 1A, 1B and 1C, and child care providers and education staff). But it’s unclear if all those people still need a vaccine. People have turned to other providers, like pharmacies and other counties, to get a shot as distribution has ramped up.

APH has been asking people who registered with the department for a vaccine but got vaccinated elsewhere to update their information. The department says this will allow it to have a better understanding of how many people still need the vaccine and help it determine when to open eligibility to everyone.

The 2,800 leftover appointments could dwindle down some before the next appointment release. APH has an “equity hotline,” or a phone line it uses to reach out to people who don’t have internet access to schedule appointments. APH is also proactively reaching out to qualified individuals in the system to see if they still need an appointment, Lara said.

The leftover appointments from Thursday, as well as the next week’s worth of appointments, will open again Monday evening. APH posts updates about the time and number of people in the virtual waiting room on its Twitter feed.

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

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