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Commentary Coronavirus Featured Government

The city’s COVID-19 vaccination system is frustrating and inhumane. We can fix it!

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By Stephanie Caviness-Tantimonaco

I feel fortunate to be among the El Pasoans who have received both the COVID-19 vaccines. But the process being used by the city at its vaccination hub near the airport is deeply flawed and needs to be revamped now. Otherwise, the needlessly long waiting lines may be a strong disincentive to many El Pasoans from even trying to get the life-saving vaccine.

Stephanie Caviness-Tantimonaco

I registered on the city’s vaccination website as soon as it opened in December. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from the Fire Department to set the appointment for the first of two vaccine doses — 10 o’clock on Jan. 11.

I arrived at the city’s vaccine hub on George Perry early because I had heard that the line might be long. My husband accompanied me. We got in the line at 9 o’clock. They put the shot in my arm at noon, and then had to wait 15 minutes to ensure there was no reaction to the vaccine.

It took more than three hours inching my car through the line to get that first vaccine dose. I thought that was a long time, but I figured this was a new process and was certain it would be improved quickly in the coming weeks.

Instead, the process of getting that second dose 29 days later turned out to be more confusing, frustrating and inhumane.

My vaccination card said my second shot would be given on Monday, Feb. 8, and I was advised by the person giving the vaccine to return at the same time as my first appointment. But I found out the Friday before, from a well-informed friend, that the vaccines had not arrived as scheduled and I’d have to go through another registration process. Fight again for an appointment. Many El Pasoans didn’t get the word and showed up at the vaccine hub on Monday, only to be turned away.

I spent most of the weekend trying to register for my second vaccine. It was such an aggravating process. The website wouldn’t take my code at first, and then continually showed that there were no second-dose appointments available at any of the sites. I tried again numerous times on Sunday and somehow, I was able to register. My appointment for the second dose was set for 2:15 p.m. Tuesday. 

When I went for that second dose, I was angered to find out that the vaccination process had gotten even worse. The line was even longer than when I got my first shot in January. 

Many motorists are in line for two hours before coming to portable toilets outside the city of El Paso’s vaccination hub near the airport.. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Caviness-Tantimonaco)

I saw one woman crying beside her car after it broke down or ran out of gas while waiting. She was very upset because she obviously had to lose her place in line and couldn’t do anything about it.

What upset me the most was seeing elderly individuals in their cars. Some of them were visibly distraught. There were no services available as they waited in line, not even a portable toilet until we got about a mile from the vaccine site. To me, it was cruel and unusual punishment. A friend of mine who also went through the vaccine line told me, “I felt like we were cattle.”

I got in line at 1:45 and finally exited — after getting vaccinated and waiting for 15 minutes in the reaction holding area — at 5:25 … just shy of 3 hours and 45 minutes total!

Out of curiosity, I went back around to see what the line was like at that point. The back of the line was even further away from the vaccine site than when I arrived almost four hours earlier. I asked the last man in line when his appointment was scheduled. He said 5:45. I told him he’d better be prepared to wait at least three hours… at best.

What is especially frustrating to me is that getting people vaccinated efficiently is essentially a logistics problem. El Paso is a logistics mecca. We have retired military highly trained in moving materiel and personnel efficiently. I have spent most of my professional career as an executive recruiter for maquiladoras, which rely on world-class logistics to manufacture and transport their goods globally. For them, time is money. 

All of these people that move goods and services know how long it takes to get your product through. You don’t overload your production lines; you don’t overload your traffic pathways with your trucks, because they won’t be able to go anywhere.

City leaders should tap into the tremendous expertise in our community to get the logistics right. We can’t keep doing vaccines the same way and expect things to get better.

I encourage my fellow El Pasoans to get vaccinated when they can. The long lines I experienced were annoying, but the protection provided by the vaccine was very important to me as it is to the majority of our residents. 

However, city officials must make the process more humane and efficient, especially for the most vulnerable members of our community — the elderly, those with disabilities, and El Pasoans who have limited computer/smartphone knowledge, or no access to the same. 

Stephanie Caviness-Tantimonaco has owned an executive recruiting business in El Paso for more than 30 years and has been deeply involved in foreign trade issues.

Cover photo: El Pasoans wait for hours to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the city-run hub near the airport. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Caviness-Tantimonaco)

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