Dallas County Commissioners voted during an emergency meeting on Wednesday to rescind the county's plan to prioritize vaccine availability by ZIP code.
The move comes after the Texas Department of State Health Services told Dallas County Health and Human Services in a letter Wednesday they would end shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to the county moved forward with the plan.
The plan, the DSHS said, violated the terms outlined in the agreement to vaccinate all eligible people regardless of where they reside.
"While we ask hub providers to ensure vaccine reaches the hardest-hit areas and populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider," the DSHS wrote in a letter.
There was some heated finger pointing of blame at tonight's meeting.
"All of a sudden the judge wrote a letter to the state objecting to it and then all of a sudden the state sends this veiled threat," Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said in an interview after the meeting.
"Commissioner Koch with all due respect rather than you trying to guess what's okay with the state you got us in the situation we are in tonight," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said during the meeting.
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"Your dealings with the state up to this point has been quite disingenuous," Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch said to Judge Jenkins during the meeting. "You made clear to the state that we were shutting people out entirely that weren't in those ZIP codes and that was not the case."
County Commissioners planned a third meeting on Thursday, in hopes further guidance from the state would be available at that time.
On Tuesday, Dallas County officials pledged more vaccine delivery fairness and a better registration process while giving priority to the residents of 11 ZIP codes.
Caught in the middle of the debate over ZIP codes versus age priority for Dallas County COVID-19 vaccines is Naomi Coryell. The 99-year-old woman, soon to be 100, lives in Duncanville. It was not one of the 11 ZIP codes proposed for vaccine priority by Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday. She easily surpasses the 75 and up priority that was in place for the Fair Park hub vaccination site. A vaccine is her top gift wish for her February 1 birthday.
UT Southwestern and Parkland Hospital vaccination sites would not be subjected to the ZIP code priorities would continue to use prior suggestions for age and pre-existing medical condition priorities. Only the Fair Park Hub site would be subject to the ZIP code priorities Dallas County Commissioners approved Tuesday.
The ZIP codes the county wanted to prioritize were 75210, 75211, 75215, 75216, 75217, 75227, 75228, 75149, 75150, 75241 and 75243.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins abstained from the vote Tuesday for ZIP code priorities saying it was a decision commissioners would regret and may be illegal. Commissioner Elba Garcia voted no.
The idea came about after complaints about how vaccinations have been administered so far at the Fair Park site.
Southern Dallas County leaders thought the Fair Park location for a state mass vaccination site would boost access for people from that part of the county who’ve been hard hit by COVID-19. But Southern Dallas County has been underrepresented in online registration partly, the leaders said for lack of internet access.
And there’s debate about age. Invitations so far have been for people 75 and up.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said life expectancy for Dallas County Black men suggests people 65 and up should have been immediately included.
“And so I’m still miffed and insulted, because why did you even jack with 75,” Price said. “According to the community needs assessment, our own CHNA, we ain’t living that long?
Jenkins said past decisions targeting 75 and up were a matter of supply and demand.
“There are way more people over 65 than we could ever get vaccine to at 9,000 doses a week,” Jenkins said.
County Commissioner J.J. Koch said working-age minorities should be targeted for vaccination.
“I think we are making a gigantic mistake by continuing on with this over 75. By pushing down to 65, we are going to get a significant portion of the people who are most sick when they show up at the hospital and are the most likely to spread and receive the disease,” Koch said.
Koch led the push for ZIP code-based priorities, which exclude much of his North Dallas precinct.
UT Southwestern Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Robert Haley defended the age restriction as a good starting point to reduce the increase in severe illness and hospital crowding.
“The increase really gets to going at 65, it just gets so much more dramatic at 75,” Haley said.
The experts warn the full virus immunity won’t come until 6 to 8 weeks after a person receives the second vaccine dose. So masks and tracing contacts for people who test positive will still be crucial for months to come.
"We need to keep the various activities going because they’re all contributing to slowing this down and they’re all important," said Dallas County Health Director, Dr. Philip Huang.
Haley said improvements are needed to better include Southern Dallas County residents most at risk.
“Our plan did not reach them, and so we need to now incorporate new elements into that plan. We need to have an active enrollment process, an outreach to those people,” Haley said.
It is the sort of outreach Dallas City Council Member Chad West conducted Sunday with volunteers. West supported it with a letter to Jenkins Tuesday.
West said he wants to promote a different approach than that of the criticism Mayor Eric Johnson directed toward Jenkins recently.
“As a city, we should be working together to fix the problem, working with the county to get the word out,” West said. “We know there’s a problem, but we want to be part of the solution. We don’t want to just keep poking at the problem.”
In addition to outreach, county officials said invitations for vaccination would include people age 65 and over from the registration list starting Monday.
Around 300,000 were on that list Tuesday. So far 161,000 vaccination doses have been allocated to Dallas County. State officials Tuesday said allocations are expected to increase.