EDINBURG — UT Health RGV has updated its COVID-19 vaccination procedures after preventing several undocumented persons who qualified for the shot under state guidelines from receiving it last week.

Vehicles are guided during a COVID-19 drive-thru vaccine distribution at Bobby Lackey Stadium on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The change followed a complaint on social media from a man who said his father, an undocumented Rio Grande Valley resident, was sent away from the university’s Edinburg vaccination site after qualifying for a shot through the institution’s signup process.

The resident had waited in line for several hours because he wasn’t able to provide a social security number or show that he was a U.S. citizen.

“On Saturday we were made aware through tweets that three individuals, that I know of, were turned away at our vaccine site at Edinburg because they couldn’t verify that they were residents of the U.S.,” University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spokesman Patrick Gonzalez said Monday.

According to Gonzalez, the university checked with the Department of State Health Services after becoming aware of the complaint and was directed by the state to vaccinate undocumented people.

“‘We would like the priority to be residents of Texas or your community, but we just want shots in arms,’” Gonzalez recalls the state telling the university.

He also noted that the university was implementing a residency check as part of their vaccination process.

“When we heard that, we were actually pleased because it eliminated that step of verifying residency, and now we can move forward with anybody who’s registered with UTRGV to get the vaccine and falls under the 65 and older and medical conditions…”

According to guidance issued from the state to vaccine providers, however, a residency requirement has never been part of the recommended process.

The university issued a public apology, is updating its operating procedures and has reached out to the three individuals turned away Saturday in an attempt to schedule another appointment, Gonzalez said.

“The first thing we did was contact the individuals who were turned away, and we’re gonna try to get them scheduled ASAP,” he said. “The second step will be to apply this new guidance that we’ve received immediately moving forward.”

Abraham Diaz, the man whose social media complaints prompted the apology and change in procedure, says his father has been trying to receive a vaccination since early December and got an email from the university last week saying he was eligible.

Diaz said his father, who is over 60 with underlying conditions, showed up early and brought identifying information, waiting in line for over four hours before being told the site was only administering shots to U.S. citizens and being sent away.

“It’s a terrible feeling,” Diaz said. “I actually felt like it was my fault because I’m the one that registered him, I’m the one that signed him up for the vaccine, and I doubted myself. But after reading everything and seeing all the details, I saw that there’s no way it was my fault and there’s no way that they could still be doing this and be allowed to do this.”

The university reached out Sunday about scheduling another appointment, Diaz said, although he continued to criticize the university’s response to the incident late Monday evening.

Gonzalez, the university spokesperson, added that UTRGV’s vaccine registration is currently paused due to demand far exceeding the university’s supply of the drug. He said over 50,000 people signed up for a shot within weeks and that the university does intend to resume the registration process when able.

“We’re still trying to serve those 55,000,” he said. “Obviously we’re not getting as much supply as others, we’re getting about 1,700 a week — or we were, before the storm hit. We’re gonna kind of work down that list as much as we can and then once we have supply that will meet demand, we’ll be more than happy to open that registration.”

Anyone registered with UT Health RGV to receive the vaccine who was turned away because of their residency status should email covidvaccine@utrgv.edu to be rescheduled.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include late-breaking information.