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Texas county axes plan to focus Covid vaccines on people of colour after state threatens to cut supply

Josh Marcus
·2-min read
<p>People arrive to a COVID-19 testing site at Paul Quinn College run by the Texas Army and Air National Guard and other volunteers in Dallas, Texas on July 29, 2020. - The testing site has conducted over 5,000 tests, handed out over 3,000 boxes of food with an average of 500 tests a day since it opened in June. </p> (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP via Getty Images)

People arrive to a COVID-19 testing site at Paul Quinn College run by the Texas Army and Air National Guard and other volunteers in Dallas, Texas on July 29, 2020. - The testing site has conducted over 5,000 tests, handed out over 3,000 boxes of food with an average of 500 tests a day since it opened in June.

(Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP via Getty Images)

Officials in the county that includes Dallas, Texas, abandoned a plan to focus Covid vaccination efforts on the most at-risk neighbourhoods, primarily communities of colour, after state officials threatened to cut down their vaccine allocation.

On Wednesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to scrap its earlier 3-1 decision from the day before. The targeted policy, put in place after early data indicated shots were flowing mainly to affluent, white neighbourhoods, would’ve focused on 11 zip codes containing mostly Black and Latino people, whom the coronavirus has disproportionately affected.

“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,” the letter said.

The 11 zip codes in question contain around 27,000 people. Local government is only responsible for directly administering about 10 per cent of the county’s vaccine supplies, as hospitals and other health centres lead the charge.

It’s not the first confusing vaccine moment in the county. A vaccine registration system was compromised after people were able to gain access through an unauthorised link , leading the county for a time to open up vaccines to everyone qualified, appointment or not.

Texas has also struggled with clashes between state and local authorities over who leads the pandemic response. In early January, Texas’s attorney general sued the city of Austin over its New Year’s weekend dining restrictions.

Other states have experienced similar hiccups. Earlier this week, Florida announced it would begin requiring vaccine recipients to bring a proof of state residence, amid fears out-of-towners were trying to game the system and get the vaccine early.

The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted people of colour due to historic health inequities and these groups’ high proportion among essential workers, but a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most states reporting vaccine data by race and ethnicity aren’t treating people of colour in proportion to their high share of total cases and deaths.