“We remain 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,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said in a Feb. 8 news release. “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 said in the release that vaccination levels for the Travis County Hispanic community should also be higher due to the high rate of transmission in that community. Hispanic residents make up 18.1% of the county's population over age 65, and APH has administered 18.9% of its initial doses to Hispanic individuals. As of Jan. 31, Hispanic patients accounted for 46% of the county’s cumulative COVID-19 hospitalizations.
APH outlined ongoing efforts to engage these underrepresented communities moving forward, including through the use of the county’s new vaccine phone bank. Other strategies include partnering with Capital Metro to offer transportation to vaccine appointments and exploring the option of mobile vaccine clinics to reach homebound residents.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has allotted APH 12,000 more initial doses this week. APH now posts new appointments through its registration portal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when vaccine seekers who fall into phases 1A and 1B can register for limited slots. Front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents are in Phase 1A, while people age 65 and up and individuals with high-risk health factors qualify for Phase 1B.
“This week, we have more than 150,000 individuals who currently qualify as 1B on the list with Austin Public Health to receive the vaccine. 550,000 people are on the list to receive the vaccine total,” said Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, at a Feb. 5 news conference. “The vast majority of people who are waiting for a vaccine are going to have to wait for weeks or months.”
As a regional hub provider, APH is the largest administrator of coronavirus vaccines in the county, but 350 other organizations are registered as providers through the state as well. Allotments from DSHS vary week to week; this week, 18,750 doses will be shipped to 19 providers in Travis County. UT Health Austin, also a hub, will receive 2,950 doses. Eight CommUnityCare clinics were also allotted doses, as well as three Lone Star Circle of Care clinics, the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center and three WellMed locations. The Texas Department of Public Safety will also receive a shipment.
The unpredictability of allocations from the state week to week poses a significant hurdle, Escott said.
“Part of the challenge that I think our community is facing right now is there's constant frustration because there's too many unknowns,” he said Feb. 4. “I know DSHS is working hard to streamline logistics, to get us allocations, [but] part of that is based upon some uncertainty regarding how much supply is coming to the state each week.”
Escott has expressed hope the Biden administration’s vaccine strategy, combined with the authorization of new vaccines—such as the Johnson & Johnson product scheduled for Food and Drug Administration approval later this month—will result in expanded supply and advance notice for vaccine providers.