In Houston, 43% of the population that have already received a vaccine are white, compared to 21% that are Hispanic, 15% that are Asian and 18% that are Black, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
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The Houston Health Department and members of Texas' Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel say that in addition to the state's mass vaccination hubs, cities also need a plan in place to vaccinate more people in communities of color.
Turner joined other Houston-area elected leaders on Saturday, Feb. 6, to discuss how the city is planning to fight these inequities and reduce the disparity seen in high-risk, vulnerable and underserved communities.
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He addressed two key parts of the plan he and other local leaders said they intend to follow.
The first is that Houston and Harris County will work to be more "intentional and directional" with where they distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Turner acknowledged that mass vaccination sites are good for numbers, not for equity. That means lots of people are showing up to get a vaccine dose, but most of the people who show up haven't been from minority communities.
He said the state needs to send more vaccines to the Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health because these departments are the ones who provide the vaccines to smaller community clinics.
He also said addressing this disparity of vaccine allocation to smaller community clinics that are present in minority communities will directly address hesitancy to get the vaccine.
"When neighbors and family members see (people they know getting a vaccine), they're not going to want to be left out," he said.
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The second key part of the plan is to actually work constructively to share the vaccine doses with other providers.
"You could have the best healthcare in the world, but if you can't access it? Doesn't matter," Turner said.
According to the mayor, Harris County Public Health hospitals have gotten less vaccine doses than other providers. But 88% of the vaccines at Harris Health hospitals have gone to people of color.
Many of the hospitals in the Harris Health system are "closer to where people live," Turner said, making them the perfect providers to help make vaccines available and accessible for minority communities. Harris Health is also the only safety new hospital system in the area, serving people with low income or no insurance, said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, President and CEO of the Harris Health system.
Turner said his team will work to distribute more doses to Harris Health providers and FQAC clinics, like Hope Clinic and Ibn Sina Clinic.
The city has also determined priority zip codes, using data on age, race and ethnicity to determine where vaccine distribution is low, said Houston Health Department director, Stephen Williams. COVID-19 vaccines were distributed at Settegast Health Center in northeast Houston on Saturday, which falls in one of the priority zip codes.
"There's nothing genetically different in people that makes them more susceptible to get COVID-19," said the city's top health authority, Dr. David Persse. "It's social inequities present. We should be smarter than the problem."
Overall, Turner said, the problems will start to mitigate once more vaccine doses become available and distributed to providers in minority communities.
"If we don't stand up and speak against the inequities taking place, who will?" Turner said.
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