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Texas working to meet vaccine demand while addressing equity concerns

HOUSTON – President Joe Biden has signed several executive orders to help speed up COVID-19 vaccine production. But, even with the creation of federally staffed community vaccination sites, there are concerns about how the vaccine is being distributed.

While the new administration is working to formulate a more federally coordinated response, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci is confident the president’s goal can be met.

“The goal that was set by the president of getting 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days is quite a reasonable goal,” Fauci said.

Along with hitting that number, there are already concerns about equitable distribution. Texas shows far more Whites getting the initial vaccine doses than communities of color.

According to Texas’ vaccine dashboard, 27% of vaccine recipients were White compared to 4% African American, 8% Hispanic and 5% Asian.

There are also huge gaps in data collection. The dashboard shows 45% of those receiving the vaccine have race/ethnicity listed as ‘unknown.’

“Is it an equity issue or a supply issue?” asked KPRC Investigator Robert Arnold.

“It’s a little bit of both,” said Dr. Cedric Dark, an Assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dark said he understands the initial vaccines going to large healthcare providers because frontline healthcare workers were the first priority. But as the program expands there has to be a concerted effort to get the vaccine into more already underserved neighborhoods. Areas where internet access for online registration or transportation to hub sites can be significant hurdles.

“Maybe we can start rolling this out into community churches and barbershops, that sort of thing; where people actually are,” said Dark.

Dark added the vaccine hesitancy may also be a factor in many communities of color that have suffered severe mistreatment by the healthcare system.

“I’ve already been completely vaccinated. Many of my colleagues have been completely vaccinated and we want to express to the community that it is safe to do so,” said Dark.

State health officials maintain the biggest issue is the supply.

“There’s simply not enough supply to meet the demand. We’re hearing it from all quarters,” said Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

State health officials estimate approximately 10 million Texans fall into the 1A and 1B phases of the vaccine rollout.

According to state data, 3.3 million doses have been allocated to healthcare providers and 2.4 million doses have been shipped to providers. While nearly 1.3 million people have received at least one dose and just over 200,000 people have received both doses.

Still, Van Deusen said hitting all communities evenly is a priority and newly created hubs around the state are being tasked with making sure the vaccine is accessible to everyone who currently qualifies.

“Part of their commitment is that they are identifying ways to get vaccines to these hard-hit populations,” said Van Deusen.

During a stop in Houston, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick also said the state has to rely on local officials when it comes to directing neighborhood-based efforts.

“We can’t control every dose in every neighborhood in every street from the state level, but that’s where you get your mayors and your county judges and they have to be communicating to the public,” said Patrick.