Medical deserts leave residents unable to receive COVID-19 vaccine

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In Houston's East End, Juan Hernandez has managed to keep his restaurant open through the pandemic.

Now, he's excited that his daughter managed to find him an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I'm going to take it," said Hernandez, who counts himself lucky to be one of the seniors who secured a dose.

He said he worries about the other Hispanic seniors in his community.

"A lot of them don't have computers, they need to do things the old fashioned way," he said.

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The Texas Department of State Health Services is only sending COVID-19 vaccine doses to qualified medical providers.

That means most Harris County vaccine distributors are located near the Texas Medical Center, or areas that have lots of doctor's offices.

The other side of the county is virtually a vaccine desert.

"I live in Denver Harbor and work here in Second Ward. I haven't seen anything in our neighborhood yet. You would think they would have planned something for our neighborhood," he said. "But right now, they haven't. That's not too good for our neighborhood."

The disparities also vary from county to county.

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State data shows fewer than 20,000 doses have made it to all of Fort Bend County. The Oakbend Medical Center in Fort Bend only got 1,000 of those doses.

Officials said that was not enough to open vaccinations up to seniors or those who are ill.

"We used up our vaccines to this point," said Oakbend CEO Joe Freudenberger. "We don't know how many we are getting in the next round. Whatever comes in the door, we use it. That's why it's like, we're learning how to fly the plane mid-flight."

Texas DSHS did not make anyone available to comment. But, ABC13 received an email saying next week's distributions will be focused on large providers that can open mega-vaccine centers.

The City of Houston hopes it can open up a community vaccine site when the next round of doses arrive. Hernandez hopes a facility will open to serve more of East Harris County.

"I just don't know what it would take to get them out here," he said.

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