A joint statement regarding the region's COVID-19 vaccine rollout was released Jan. 4 and signed by Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison; state Rep. Sheryl Cole, D-Austin; Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion; Manor Mayor Larry Wallace Jr.; and Pflugerville City Council Member Rudy Metayer.
In the statement, the six leaders addressed the economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, adding their constituents have raised concerns over financial stability, job security and impacts on local businesses. However, the leaders added the pandemic has also highlighted racial and regional inequities with the vaccine's distribution.
“It has been said many, many times but it always bears repeating: This pandemic has cast a harsh light on the regional inequities that have gone unaddressed for far too long and now expand beyond Austin’s city limits," the statement read. "In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, we’re once again seeing more signs of those inequities. Generations of disinvestment and underdevelopment in the Eastern Crescent led to the lack of grocery stores, pharmacies, and clinics this is now behind an early imbalance in access to vaccinations compared to areas west of I-35."
Alongside underdevelopment concerns within the eastern neighborhoods of Austin and Travis County, the statement added these regional inequities have disproportionately impacted Black and Latino communities, which are "more vulnerable to COVID-19 and have seen disproportionately higher rates of death due to the illness."
The statement continued to say not enough vaccine doses have been provided within the community and that alternative vaccine distribution resources need to be considered. Suggestions included establishing pop-up clinics at fire stations and schools.
“As elected leaders, we recognize the powerful urgency of this moment and we are committed to bringing forward concrete solutions quickly," the statement read. "We will not tolerate a hands-off vaccination strategy that ends the pandemic quickly for the privileged while letting it linger indefinitely among our most marginalized constituents. This community can and must do better and we won’t rest until it does.”