Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT
Tuesday, February 9, 2021 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Austin Public Health’s vaccine data shows more effort is needed to reach Black and Hispanic residents

Austin Public Health is now publishing demographic data on its Covid-19 vaccine distributions. The data is available in an online dashboard that will be updated weekly.

The dashboard shows that as of Jan. 29, APH had distributed 31,251 doses. About 70 percent of the vaccines have gone to people 60 and older. People 65 and older are in one of the groups eligible to receive a vaccine right now under state guidelines, since they are more likely to develop complications from the virus.

So far, the percentages of vaccines distributed to white, Hispanic and Asian individuals are consistent with the percentage of those groups that make up the 65-and-older population of Travis County. But the data falls short for Black residents.

For example, 64 percent of vaccine recipients are white and about 68 percent of the Travis County population over age 65 are white. About 19 percent of vaccine recipients are Hispanic and 18 percent of the county population 65 and older are Hispanic. About 8 percent of vaccine recipients are Asian, and 5 percent of the 65-and-older population are Asian.

Meanwhile, 4 percent of vaccine recipients are Black, while 7.6 percent of the 65+ population in Travis County are Black.

APH said it was encouraged by the results so far, but remains “deeply concerned that vaccine distribution is not reaching individuals who identify as Hispanic or African American, especially given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact to these communities.”

Although the percentage of Hispanic individuals getting vaccinated lines up with the county’s population, “that is not enough to counter the transmission levels among this population.”

“We must expand current efforts to provide vaccines to more members of our Hispanic and African American communities, especially in areas where disease transmission is high,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said in a press release.

The city and county are trying to address these disparities in a number of ways: working with grassroots groups to communicate the importance of the vaccine; proactively calling members of vulnerable populations to register them; looking into ways to administer the vaccine to homebound people; and partnering with Capital Metro to provide transportation to vaccine appointments.

Texas residents can go to any vaccine hub in the state to sign up for a vaccine; it doesn’t have to be from the county they live in. According to a map in APH’s vaccine dashboard, most of the people getting a vaccine from APH live in Central Texas. Recipients are more heavily concentrated west of Interstate 35.

A designated vaccine hub, Austin Public Health has been receiving 12,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine a week since Jan. 11. But more than 150,000 people who have registered with APH qualify for a vaccine right now, so the agency has been urging people to be patient as it moves through the waitlist.

“For a community with over 1.3 million people and receiving 12,000 doses per week, we have a long way to go,” interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said in a press release. “We simply do not have enough of the vaccine to give to everyone who needs and wants it. While we wait for supplies to increase, we need everyone to help slow the spread by practicing the 3 W’s: Wear a face covering, wash your hands and watch your distance.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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