County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dr. Phil Huang, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy Fox 4's Facebook)

Coronavirus

Clay Jenkins: Mayor Johnson ‘Undermined’ the Vaccine Effort

Johnson claims Jenkins gave preferential treatment to walk-ups without communicating to the city. Jenkins says he was balancing inequity in who received the vaccine.

Mayor Eric Johnson is once again clashing with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, this time over the communication surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination distribution at the Fair Park mega center. Johnson made his allegations in a letter he sent Wednesday night to Jenkins, the city manager, and members of the City Council. Media got ahold of it Thursday afternoon. The mayor said that Jenkins was allowing some individuals to get walk-up vaccinations without registering ahead of time, which disenfranchised others in South Dallas, all while not communicating the change to the city.

Johnson’s letter alleged “a resident … told us they were able to simply walk up and get the vaccine without needing to register.” This, Johnson wrote, was not part of the original process. Upon further inquiry, Johnson heard that Jenkins had requested a select group of residents to keep the arrangement hush-hush. The mayor credited this allegation to “someone who I trust a great deal.” He closed his letter by threatening to “reevaluate our contract” with the county as the city’s public health authority if communication didn’t improve.

Johnson said he would be open to a change in the registration protocol, but he found it “incredibly disappointing” that Jenkins would talk out of two sides of his mouth: telling the general public to register and schedule an appointment while telling others in the know that they didn’t need to do so, all without communicating any of this to the city. “It’s unacceptable that we were not notified about such a major decision,” he wrote.

But Jenkins tells a different version, calling Johnson’s letter “inaccurate.” Jenkins says the outreach was not to those who knew the right people, but rather to seniors in ZIP codes that lack adequate healthcare services and vaccine access. Jenkins says a council member shared the Fair Park registration link with the general public, resulting in Monday-Wednesday’s appointments being filled by a “group [that] was overwhelmingly white, under 75, and from the city’s most affluent ZIP codes.” The unauthorized appointments were not honored on Tuesday and Wednesday, and vaccines went unused.

Jenkins says the county then attempted to “balance the demographic makeup” of those receiving vaccines by reaching out directly to churches, health centers, senior centers and others that work with Black and Hispanic residents. Jenkins says this was to help remedy the imbalance of appointments.

Jenkins blames the confusion on the mayor. “Your and other’s decision earlier today to broadcast that vaccines are available to anyone over 75 without an appointment has undermined that effort and made it less likely the vaccine will get to the people at the highest risk in the hardest hit, most underserved ZIP codes this week,” his response says.

Jenkins seemed to take issue with Johnson’s communication style, closing with, “I trust in the future you will route any questions through the Dallas City Manager’s Office, the city’s (Office of Emergency Management) leads for this response, our [sic] call directly.”

Throughout the pandemic, Jenkins and his team have worked closely with Rocky Vaz, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management. The mayor says Vaz was not aware of a change in policy.

The Fair Park site was established to address inequities in the geographic distribution of the vaccine, and was to prioritize healthcare workers, those over 65, and others with serious medical issues. The county oversees the vaccinations, but the city owns the site and has helped staff it. When it opened on Monday, more than 140,000 people had registered to receive a vaccine, but Dallas County Health and Human Services only received 6,000 this week.

This isn’t the first time Johnson and Jenkins have clashed over a COVID-19 resource. When Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to take away a field hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center this summer because he said the county didn’t have plans to use it, Johnson said he was “stunned and deeply disappointed” about “Dallas County’s position on the pop-up hospital.”

Jenkins denied the claims from the governor and the mayor, and blamed a disconnect between the governor’s office and his own. In his response to Abbott, Jenkins encouraged the governor to keep communication open, much as he did in his response to Johnson. “Instead of drafting a letter, I ask that you use the telephone for communication or coordination…upon hearing about your letter on Sunday afternoon, we immediately placed a call to your cell phone number but have not yet received a response.”

On Thursday evening, Jenkins tweeted about how vaccinations would work at the site. “Tomorrow, Friday we will once again vaccinate 75+ without an appointment from 8-5 @fairpark. Saturday, we will likely return to ‘appointment only’ depending on sign ups.” A statement from Jenkins’ office says they consider the matter to be resolved, and that they “have a great partnership with the City and are in constant communication with the City Manager’s office and OEM.”

Johnson’s letter was leaked to the media, allowing what could have been a conversation between the top two local officials to become a public forum. Below is Jenkins’ response to the mayor.

Dear Mayor:

I trust that everyone on this letter and all council members share the goal of getting our most vulnerable populations vaccinated as soon as possible. Thank you all for your support of the work the city staff is doing to help lead this response. There are a lot of heroic city employees doing great work.

Your letter is inaccurate. Community outreach efforts were made to reach seniors in underserved and hard hit zip codes in Dallas after the unauthorized sharing of a back link to sign up for appointments was broadcast by at least one Dallas City Council Member and led to our Monday-Wednesday appointments being filled by persons who did not receive an invite for an appointment. That group was overwhelmingly white, under 75 and from the city’s most affluent zip codes. Those unauthorized appointments were not honored Tuesday and Wednesday but led to less vaccines being administered on those days than expected.

Our effort was to remedy the problem described above by balancing the demographic makeup to help underserved communities. Southern Dallas churches, health centers, senior centers and other partners serving Black and Hispanic residents were enlisted for their help. Your and other’s decision earlier today to broadcast that vaccines are available to anyone over 75 without an appointment has undermined that effort and made it less likely the vaccine will get to the people at the highest risk in the hardest hit, most underserved zip codes this week.

I trust in the future you will route any questions through the Dallas City Manager’s Office, the city’s OEM leads for this response our call directly.

Sincerely,

Clay Jenkins

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