The El Paso County Democratic Party is seeking city and state audits over the city’s handling of the registration process and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“This is a life and death situation,” El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Dora Oaxaca said. “No El Pasoans can be left behind. No one can be left behind.”
Oaxaca sent letters Monday calling for the audits to El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and Imelda Garcia, chair of the COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“We have multitude of concerns by many citizens in the community who are being skipped from getting their vaccinations and that there are flaws in the system,” Oaxaca said. “We definitely have to find a solution for this. An audit is a tool that can help us identify immediately what these problems are as of right now and also take corrective actions.”
Oaxaca said Tuesday morning that she has yet to hear from the city, but received an email from Garcia addressing her concerns.
Letter to the state
Oaxaca requested that the state audit the allotment and disbursement of COVID-19 vaccine doses to both public and nonprofit organizations in El Paso County.
She lists three major points of concerns: the lack of or the random sequence of appointments; inequitable scheduling systems that favor tech savvy individuals or are solely reliant on internet submissions; and lack of oversight to ensure only priority groups are receiving the vaccine.
“Our office continues to receive alarming reports of local residents, who meet the state criteria for Phase 1B, scheduling appointments over 30 days ago and yet to receive a scheduled date for their 1st dose of the vaccine,” Oaxaca wrote in the letter. “Our community deserves a fair, transparent, and functional COVID-19 Vaccine disbursement process with adequate oversight.”
The letter asks Garcia and the COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel to audit the allocation and distribution of the vaccine by organizations that have received it. They include the city of El Paso, University Medical Center of El Paso, Immunize El Paso, Centro de Salud La Fe and Centro San Vicente.
Oaxaca asks that the state provide the exact number and date of vaccine disbursement to each entity, the demographics of those vaccinated after each disbursement and the number of and demographics of those with appointments from each entity. She also states that “the state must provide for a Centralized Vaccine System in every county.”
The lack of demographic numbers make it difficult for officials to ensure that minorities and vulnerable populations are fairly receiving the vaccine, Oaxaca said.
“The lack of clear data makes it impossible to determine whether the lifesaving vaccine is being distributed to the most vulnerable members of the community,” Oaxaca wrote in the letter. “Of the approximately 70,500 people El Paso providers vaccinated with at least one dose as of Wednesday, race and ethnicity was known for only 6,611 of them, according to DSHS’s data dashboard.”
Garcia responded to the letter Tuesday morning, stating that her team will work on addressing Oaxaca’s concerns.
“I will have the team begin pulling the information you requested and provide a response to you all,” Garcia wrote in an email to Oaxaca. “Please know that we are actively working on improving the race/ethnicity data across the state. Right now, we have about 45% of all the doses administered missing race/ethnicity data. So I truly believe the data is not accurately reflecting what is occurring in El Paso county or across the state. We have a long way to go in getting Texans vaccinated and I’m happy to talk with you all about your concerns.”
Letter to mayor of El Paso
In a letter to Leeser, Oaxaca called on the city to audit and improve its logistics system and vaccine disbursement process.
“Although the City keeps touting El Paso as having one of one of best vaccine roll-out programs in Texas, there is a consistent increase of El Pasoans reporting valid concerns of how the system is flawed and is failing the most vulnerable populations in our community,” Oaxaca wrote.
She stated that the City Council admitted during a Jan. 5 meeting “to launching a process with glitches and poor coordination.”
“After 30 days of recurring City ‘glitches’ and media reporting on a multitude of residents’ concerns, it is completely unacceptable and incomprehensible that this life saving program is not meeting the needs of the community,” Oaxaca wrote. “Specifically, there are multiple stories of families reporting evidence of being skipped after making appointments for their loved ones who qualify under the existing COVID-19 criteria.”
Oaxaca called for an audit of the city’s vaccination program, including investigating processes for outreach, notification, registration, timelines, criteria, selection, vetting and disbursement.
Oaxaca said she had yet to hear from the city as of Tuesday morning.
City of El Paso officials released a statement to the news media addressing the concerns brought up in her letter.
“The City of El Paso, along with our Communities of Excellence partner, University Medical Center, are working diligently to administer COVID-19 vaccines to individuals in priority groups Phase 1A and 1B, per the guidance of the Department of State Health Services and CDC,” the statement said.
Phases 1A and 1B include first responders, health care personnel, people 65 and older, and those 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition.
“The City has been proactive in its efforts to care for the most vulnerable members of our community through the activation of a focused Deployment Team,” officials said. “The Team provides vaccines at elderly care facilities throughout our community to ensure our most vulnerable populations are cared for and receive the vaccine as quickly and as easily as possible.”
The city is distributing the vaccines as soon as they receive them, city officials said.
“El Paso has administered more than 90 percent of the vaccines it has received, leading the State of Texas once again in its efforts to get the vaccine into the arms of our residents,” officials said. “The State has been responsive to the City’s requests for additional vaccines because we have administered the vaccine more efficiently than any other community in the State of Texas.”
Officials said they have taken community feedback and worked on improving the vaccination process. The improvements include a new website, EPCovidVaccine.com, and more staff to answer calls from residents trying to register for the vaccine. The number to register is 915-212-6843.
““The most recent process improvements were implemented in late January,” officials said. “The team continues to make process improvements to the system. However, to meet the community’s demand, we need more vaccines.”