Drive-Thru COVID Vaccine Sites Leave Some North Texans Waiting For A Ride To Their Shot
COVID-19 vaccinations are supposed to be accessible for all. But for people without transportation, getting to and from appointments has its challenges.
From the moment 65-year-old Doyle Ross became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, he and his wife, Nancy made it their mission to register.
“We’ve been doing that. We’ve done that since January,” he said.
They spent hours over many days on the phone and online trying to get Doyle an appointment. They filled out a registration form online, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s difficult trying to register. Also, they want all this information and then sometimes it won’t click over and goes to the next page and then it deletes everything it says and then it’s just confusing when you don’t really know how to operate your phone in the first place,” said Nancy.
Three months later, the Rosses felt no closer to getting the vaccine.
Although all Texas adults became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in late March, simply being eligible doesn't mean getting an appointment is instantaneous.
There are many potential stumbling blocks. There’s a lack of information in languages other than English, fewer doctors and clinics in poorer neighborhoods, glitchy technology, and a disproportionate access to the internet and transportation.
For folks without a car, getting to and from an appointment isn’t that simple. For example, the Rosses don’t drive, so when they heard about an event in Southeast Dallas for people needing transportation, Doyle and his wife knew they had to go.
Event That Offers Transportation To Vaccine Site
One morning last month, outside the Prairie Creek Public Library, volunteers helped a long line of more than 100 mostly Black and brown Dallas residents register for the vaccine.
The event is a one-stop site. People stood in line, came up to a tent, registered and two charter buses were waiting for them to board. The event offered free bus rides to the Fair Park vaccination site.
“One of the reasons that this event has this type of demand is because there are a lot of people who have registered with the county who are still waiting for an appointment and with our event, they can register with us. And then they are pretty much guaranteed to show up today, and then get the vaccine today, said Dallas City Council Member Jaime Resendez.
Resendez hosted the event in partnership with Dallas County and local nonprofits. This was in effort to help fill transportation gaps in his district. The event was open to people 50 and older who live in certain southeast Dallas neighborhoods.
Domitila Mendoza, 54, was in line. She found out about the event from a local news segment on Univision.
No, ya me había registrado. Nomas que no tenía como moverme … No no tengo carro y por eso me vine para acá para que me lleven, Mendoza said in Spanish. “I just didn't have a way to move ... No, I don't have a car and that's why I came here.”
Mendoza had been registered for a while now, but couldn’t find someone to take her to her appointment. She doesn’t have a car. She walked two blocks to the library to make it to the event.
Next to Mendoza in line was Vilma Morales, 51, who got a ride from a friend to the event.
Morales is an essential worker who cleans offices. She said around this time last year she had lost all hope. Demand for her job went down early pandemic and her husband caught COVID-19 in April 2020.
El trabajito que teníamos allí nos bajó mucho el precio. De $500 bajo $380 — la quincena, por dos semanas. Y eso es la renta, los biles, no es justo y hay que buscarle de otra manera, she said in Spanish. “There 's little work. I went from making $500 to $380 bi-weekly. And that needs to pay rent and the bills.”
Morales is relying on this vaccine to get her life back to normal.
North Texas City Leaders And Non-Profits Try Filling Transportation Gaps
In Dallas County, the vaccination site at Fair Park is drive-up only.
Chrisitan Grisales, spokesperson for Dallas County Health and Human Services, said staffers are working hard to come up with solutions for people who don't have access to vehicles.
“There are multiple options. We have a new program called ‘Ride to Vaccinate,’ providing a service for people to get picked up and taken to the vaccine location at Fair Park and driven back to their homes,” said Grisales.
According to Grisales, the city of Dallas is hoping to launch mobile clinics soon.
In early April, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Uber teamed up to provide free rides to a vaccination site at St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church. These are one-time opportunities, but the city is hoping to do more.
"We are finally nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic with the help of these vaccines," Mayor Johnson said in a statement.
"But as the supply increases, it is more critical than ever that we work to overcome barriers to vaccination so that we can inoculate as many Dallas residents as possible against this terrible virus.”
The event was meant for those who have difficulty accessing transportation. The site was a walk-up site where Uber drivers picked up and dropped off people instead of waiting in line.
In Fort Worth, health officials have also launched a series of mobile clinic events to overcome transportation barriers.
In February, the non-profit LVTRise partnered with Tarrant County Public Health to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to neighborhoods where the majority of residents don’t have transportation.
“The way we're rolling out this vaccination isn't the best way for this neighborhood,” said Rankin. “With transportation being such a huge barrier, many people in this neighborhood can walk or are willing to drive a short distance to get their vaccination.”
Rankin points out that a shorter commute to a vaccine site will always be easier on people who don't have access to a car. The nearest vaccine site to Fort Worth is in Arlington.
“A lot of our population who are hourly jobs don't have that luxury to just drop everything and go get the vaccination,” said Rankin.
Back in Dallas, Doyle and Nancy Ross arrived at the Fair Park vaccination site. They got off the bus and walked slowly, guided by FEMA employees to sit in white chairs that were spread out, complying to social distance rules.
The process was so fast. One pinch and done. Shortly after rolling up his sleeve for his shot, Doyle says he felt a sense of relief.
“Got us on our knees more... praying harder. And hoping that everybody be safe. And we know close residents who've had it and made it through it,” he said.
Since getting the vaccine themselves, the Rosses feel one step closer to safe. After months of waiting and worrying — that's a welcome dose of hope.
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.