Hundreds were turned away from the county’s vaccine hub Thursday morning after scheduling and communication errors led to more people being invited to receive COVID-19 vaccinations than were available.
Officials blamed the error on a combination of problems with the county’s computer-based scheduling software and cancellations caused by last week’s weather disaster.
Although people were turned away Thursday, officials weren’t concerned about rescheduling appointments or people missing second rounds of vaccination.
The University of Texas Medical Branch, which is partnering with the Galveston County Health District and the county, confirmed the problems in a public announcement at about noon as officials tried to control long lines forming along state Highway 3 outside Walter Hall Park. Officials are investigating what went wrong and why so many people were misinformed about vaccination appointments.
“There seems to have been some kind of snafu because there’s just too many people at the park today,” medical branch spokesman Christopher Smith Gonzalez said. “There are more than there are vaccines.”
People who were supposed to be at the hub on Thursday were scheduled to receive a first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine, Smith Gonzalez said.
But among those who showed up at the park were people expecting to get their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine — those in that group had been scheduled to get their shots on Feb. 19, but their appointments were postponed because of the subfreezing temperatures and power outages — and others who were scheduled to receive their shots today.
Hundreds of people waited in line, some for hours, before learning it wasn’t their day for a shot.
La Marque resident Diane Criss arrived to get her second Pfizer shot after receiving a call directly from the health district, she said. When she arrived, the line seemed noticeably longer and less organized than when she received her first shot, she said.
“When I got my first shot, it was just smooth and organized,” Criss said. “There was no waiting. Today was just the complete opposite.”
Criss received a call from the health district, not an email, about getting her vaccine Thursday.
The software problem led officials to send out confusing messages to people this week, causing too many people to show up at the hub on Thursday, Smith Gonzalez said.
Hundreds of people were turned away, said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority. Keiser said he walked up the line of traffic to determine why so many people were there on Thursday morning.
Some people appeared to have received incorrect directions to get a vaccine, Keiser said. But other people appeared to show up without being directed to on the assumption shots were available; others went to the wrong hub.
“There are tech issues; there are some sneak-in-line issues; and there were some people scheduled to get their second doses here when they should have been at UTMB,” Keiser said.
People scheduled to receive vaccines on Feb. 19 and Feb. 26 should go to the hub today, Smith Gonzalez said.
People scheduled to receive vaccines on Feb. 20 or Feb. 27 should go to the hub on Saturday, officials said.
The hub is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days. Only people who have pre-scheduled appointments should go, officials said.
Others who’ve received first shots should refer to their vaccination cards about when they’re scheduled for another dose, officials said.
If people end up waiting longer than they originally anticipated for their second COVID vaccination, they shouldn’t worry about the effectiveness of their shots, officials said.
Although the county’s plans call for people to receive a second shot three weeks after their first dose, they can safely wait up to six weeks to get a second vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The scheduling mistake is the first major problem reported at the hub since it opened on Jan. 23. Officials have pointed to the hub as one of the reasons for the county’s high vaccination rate. More than 10 percent of the county’s population over the age of 16 has been vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The software being used to schedule people at the hub was essentially built from the ground up and officials still are identifying bugs in the system, Keiser said.
“We have a lot to work on,” he said.