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‘North Texas should not be punished’: Dallas County judge chides state for cutting COVID vaccines as feds boost local doses

Dallas County’s supply of state doses is getting slashed because it will become a federal vaccine site this week

Judge Clay Jenkins speaks to the media from the post vaccine observation room at the Tower Building at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas on Thursday January 28, 2021.
Judge Clay Jenkins speaks to the media from the post vaccine observation room at the Tower Building at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas on Thursday January 28, 2021. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

The state is penalizing tens of thousands of people waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine after slashing the number of doses it sent to North Texas’ two largest counties, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services last week announced it would dramatically reduce the number of shots it sent Dallas and Tarrant counties as the federal government was set to open sites here that will vaccinate 126,000 people.

Jenkins said the cut means Texans from across the state will have to wait at least three weeks for a chance at being vaccinated in either Dallas or Tarrant counties.

That’s because the shots for North Texas from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the next three weeks are reserved for the region’s most vulnerable residents in specific neighborhoods. Meanwhile, state authorized providers, such as Dallas County’s health department must vaccinate any person who meets the state’s eligibility requirements regardless of where they live.

“North Texas should not be punished,” Jenkins said, blasting the state for its decision during a virtual meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board. “There’s no reason why our hustling to get more vaccines that does not disadvantage the state by one vaccine should result in the state, effectively, shortchanging our residents.”

A spokesman for the Texas health department said last week that the new federal resources in Dallas and Tarrant counties allowed the state to send vaccines to other counties that had not received an equitable allotment.

The state this week, however, did not reduce the number of shots it sent to Harris County, which includes Houston, where a third FEMA-managed site is expected to open this week. The health department said the state’s largest county had not received a fair amount of shots based on population.

The launch of the federal distribution programs this week represent a dramatic escalation in the vaccines for the state, which has already inoculated more than 3 million people with at least one of two doses. Including the shots distributed directly by FEMA, Dallas and Tarrant counties are expected to have a slight increase in total number of shots. However, it is not the windfall of doses that North Texas leaders had expected.

The state’s decision to slash the number of doses is not a surprise. State officials, in the days following the announcement of the federal program, telegraphed a reduction would be possible.

The state sets the number of doses each county hub receives every week. And, Jenkins said, the state health department has already signaled an openness to restoring the county’s allotment. A department spokesman would not confirm any conversation between Jenkins and the health department but said no decisions for next week’s doses had been made yet.

At one point during Jenkins’ meeting with The News’ editorial board, he suggested without evidence that Gov. Greg Abbott had a role in the reduction of shots.

“This governor is, you know, very into the day-to-day management of things,” Jenkins said. “But I don’t have a window that I can share into the conversations that go on with the governor and his team about these vaccine allocations.”

An Abbott spokesman said it was the health department’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, not the governor’s office, that decides the number of shots each provider receives. The panel is made up of a group of 17 doctors, state officials and lawmakers.

Jenkins and Abbott have sparred since the beginning of the pandemic.

The fight over vaccines comes as Dallas County’s health department has run out of doses. Shipments of the shots have been delayed in the state and across the nation following severe winter weather last week. Dallas County’s health department ran through about 5,000 booster shots between Sunday and Monday.

“Right now we have zero vaccines left,” Jenkins said.

All three FEMA sites are expected to open Wednesday and are by appointment only.

Volunteer pharmacist Dan Nguyen administered a COVID-19 vaccination at Fair Park in Dallas on Feb. 10.
Volunteer pharmacist Dan Nguyen administered a COVID-19 vaccination at Fair Park in Dallas on Feb. 10.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

In Dallas, residents in 17 ZIP codes from all corners of the county will be invited to get the shot. The areas were selected based on a variety of factors, including age and the concentration of chronic diseases.

Neighborhoods in the ZIP codes selected based on the federal government’s criteria include: Forest Meadow in 75243 on the city’s north side; in the east, the Club Estates and Casa Ridge Heights subdevelopments in Mesquite’s 75150; in the south, both Joppa and the Dallas College Cedar Valley Campus in 75241; and in the west, Plymouth Park and Irving Heights neighborhoods in Irving’s 75061.

Dallas county has so far identified about 18,000 people who qualify for the vaccine in those ZIP codes, Jenkins said. It was unclear Monday how many people had booked appointments.

Registering Black and Latino residents, those who are older or who lack internet access has been difficult for the county. Jenkins was scheduled to join a conference call with City Council members and faith leaders Monday night to discuss ways to enroll residents in those neighborhoods.

If the county cannot fill all appointments with residents in the 17 ZIP codes, they will expand into other neighborhoods using the same criteria, Jenkins said.

Staff writer Allie Morris contributed from Austin.

CORRECTION at 1:30 p.m., Feb. 23: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins was going to lead a meeting of city council members and civic leaders to discuss registering individuals. The meeting was lead by City Council member Casey Thomas.

In This Story

Nic Garcia, Senior writer. Nic Garcia writes about government and politics in North Texas, especially Dallas County. He also reports on social justice issues and inequities. He previously worked at The Denver Post covering the statehouse and two presidential campaigns. Garcia is a Colorado native who joined The Dallas Morning News in 2019.

nic.garcia@dallasnews.com @nicgarcia
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