According to The Texas Tribune, officials in Dallas County, Texas, have abandoned a plan to prioritize vaccinations for the most vulnerable communities, which are primarily communities of color, after the state threatened to reduce the number of doses it receives.
A divided Dallas County Commissioners Court had voted Tuesday to prioritize vaccines at its Fair Park distribution center for individuals in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods, a reflection of increased vulnerability to the coronavirus in 11 Dallas County ZIP codes, according to the Dallas Morning News.
In Texas and across the nation, communities of color have been hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, and health officials are grappling with how to ensure equity in the vaccine rollout. In Dallas, as in other major Texas cities, distribution sites are more commonly located in white neighborhoods, and early data showed the North Texas county had distributed most of its shots to residents of whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.
Dallas leaders tried to prioritize any residents who meet the state’s criteria for vaccination and live in one of the 11 ZIP codes, which are all completely or partially south of Interstate 30, a dividing line that splits the county along racial and socioeconomic lines, the Dallas Morning News reported this week.
However, state officials were less than pleased, warning that the plan was “not acceptable to [the Department of State Health Services.]”
“While we ask hub providers to ensure vaccine reaches the hardest hit areas and populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider,” Imelda Garcia, an associate commissioner with DSHS, wrote to Dallas health officials in a letter obtained by The Texas Tribune. “If Dallas County is unable to meet these expectations, we will be forced to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer consider it a hub provider.”
The Tribune reported that the vast majority of vaccines are distributed by hospitals and other health-related institutions, while the county government is responsible for just 10 percent.
In an emergency meeting Wednesday evening, [Dallas County Judge Clay] Jenkins successfully encouraged commissioners to reverse the plan. They could broach the issue again, he said, but for now they should axe the prioritization plan to ensure the county gets its next shipment from the state.
DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen said prioritizing vulnerable populations is not a problem but that it cannot involve excluding everyone else.
“All hub providers agreed to vaccinate people without regard to where they live, including from surrounding counties, and we expect them to do that. That doesn’t prevent them from focusing some efforts on specific populations,” Van Deusen said.
“In fact, we directed them to ensure they are vaccinating people in the hardest hit areas and populations, but they cannot do that to the exclusion of literally everyone else.”
Image: Residents wait to receive a COVID vaccine at Dallas’ Fair Park on Jan. 11. (Screengrab / CBSDFW / YouTube)