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Dallas City Council Members Debate Distribution of 5,000 Vaccine Doses

This week, the City of Dallas received 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine — and a substantial dose of political turmoil to go with them. To address confusion about vaccine distribution, the Dallas City Council convened in a special meeting on Monday night that Mayor Eric Johnson characterized as “not the most productive” use of the council’s time.

The meeting was the culmination of several days of bitter exchanges between the mayor and some members of the council.

Council members Chad West, Adam Bazaldua, and Paula Blackmon employed a provision of the city’s charter to call the special meeting. In a joint statement, they criticized “false narratives and accusations” in what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Johnson.

“The memos, emails, and other forms of one-way communication must end. The public is counting on us to come together with our government partners to work side-by-side to distribute vaccines so we can eventually open our city,” the council members wrote.

Last week, Johnson cracked down on council members attempting to go around him to enact policy after West, Bazaldua, and council members Adam Medrano, Omar Narvaez, and Jaime Resendez sent a letter to City Manager T.C. Broadnax that asked for city personnel to establish “hubs” where residents could add their names to the vaccination list.

“As the Emergency Management Director for the City of Dallas […] I am ordering that you disregard their request,” Johnson wrote in a memo to Broadnax. “As you know, individual City Councilmembers have no authority under the law or under the City Charter to dictate such actions in a state of emergency, and their request should have been addressed to my office. I trust that you will make this clear going forward.”

The mayor is the emergency management director, not to be confused with Emergency Management Coordinator Rocky Vaz.

Johnson announced on Thursday the city will indeed set up vaccine registration hubs at locations to be determined by Vaz. Among the mayor’s objections to the original request by the five council members was that it did not follow the proper form and he believed it was based in politics rather than in research. 

However, some council members also accuse Johnson of political jockeying.

“It would be nice for [Gov. Greg Abbott] and [Johnson] to stop with the political games while we lose lives and families are torn apart daily due to this virus,” Bazaldua said in a social media post. “Herd immunity will require us to get as many vaccinated as possible.” 

For the most part, the special meeting consisted of several hours of discussion among council members, Vaz, and other city officials about the distribution of the 5,000 vaccines in a city with an estimated population of more than 1.3 million people. 

As Vaz indicated in the meeting, the city has been designated as a hub provider of vaccines, meaning the vaccines may not even be given to residents of Dallas. He emphasized that distributing vaccines to the population at large would be at least a months-long process.

The vaccines that the state has provided to the city of Dallas are in addition to the vaccines Dallas County is distributing. City officials have no jurisdiction whatsoever over the county’s distribution effort, which is governed ultimately by the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

Council members reported anxiety among their constituents as they seemed to be battling unrealistic expectations of how rapidly vaccine doses would be available. Variations of “the demand far exceeds the supply” were repeated throughout the meeting.

“I don’t think we’re all on the same page,” Councilman David Blewett said, asking Vaz how the city could improve its communication efforts.

A scrolling list of ideas and suggestions were discussed, including sending text messages or mailers, employing billboards, or utilizing other campaigns to get the word out. Meanwhile, Vaz was unsure how many more vaccines the city will receive — if any. Those decisions will be made by the state.

Johnson rebutted the idea that frustration about vaccines is something exclusively affecting the City of Dallas. 

“There’s confusion surrounding this virus everywhere, and around vaccinations everywhere. Everybody’s dealing with this,” Johnson said. 

“[I]t’s driven largely by what Mr. Vaz said — the scarcity of the vaccines.”

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