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On vaccine equity

This was predictable, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it as such.

Black and Latino Harris County residents received the COVID-19 vaccine at lower rates than their white counterparts, according to a county analysis that also found a person’s likelihood of vaccination, to date, largely has depended on where they live.

The findings underscore what a Houston Chronicle analysis found last month: Even though African-American and Latino communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19 in Texas, they are being vaccinated at a much slower pace.

The gap exists despite a Harris County public health campaign crafted to convince residents of color to get the vaccine. And it is significant: In the highest-participation ZIP code, 77046 in Upper Kirby, 87 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Fourteen miles north in Greenspoint, 77060, 8 percent of residents have.

“That disparity is so disappointing, but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Rice University health economist Vivian Ho. “A large portion of the vaccines in the state went to the hospital systems, who just went through their electronic records — so if you’re insured, which means you’re more likely to be white, then it was easy for them to sign you up.”

Of the 20 Harris County ZIP codes with vaccination rates of at least 31 percent, 18 have predominantly white residents. Sixteen are in the so-called Houston Arrow, the section of Houston from Oak Forest southeast to downtown, southwest to Meyerland, north to the Galleria and west through the Energy Corridor that is significantly whiter and more affluent than other parts of the city.

Much of the data from 77030 likely is incorrect, the report notes, since the Texas Medical Center is located there and many hospitals appear to have listed that ZIP code as a way of expediting patient appointments.

Of the 20 county ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates, none of which exceed 15 percent, 18 are mostly nonwhite. None are in the Arrow.


The two commissioner precincts with the highest share of white residents, 3 and 4, had the highest vaccination rates, both above 16 percent. Precinct 1, which has the largest proportion of African Americans, was just below 16 percent. Just 13 percent of residents in [Commissioner Adrian] Garcia’s Precinct 2, which is mostly Latino, have received at least one dose.

Garcia said he asked for the study because he wanted to identify areas in Harris County that need greater vaccine outreach. He praised the county’s mass vaccination site at the NRG campus, but said many of his constituents lack access to public or private transportation to travel to the site or the Texas Medical Center, which are in Precinct 1.

“We want to make sure we’re being creative and thoughtful about where are the masses in the precinct that may be a way to help us move that needle in a better direction?

“The Medical Center, for most of the people in my precinct, doesn’t really exist because they can’t get to it,” Garcia continued. “We need to serve those tough, underserved areas of the precinct that have gone underserved for quite some time.”

Precinct 2 has partnered with unions and community groups to set up local vaccination sites. The portable SmartPod mobile medical units Garcia debuted last year to help with COVID-19 testing now are used also to assist with administering the shots.

Garcia said he also would urge the county health department to waive its requirement that residents register for appointments online. He predicted walk-in appointments would be popular among seniors who may not be technologically savvy, as well as undocumented residents wary of entering their personal information into a government database.

There are a lot of reasons for which, a primary one being that the state prioritized people over 65, who are disproportionately white, and not essential workers like grocery store employees or meatpackers or teachers or government employees. Not much we can do about that now other than try to catch up from here. Commissioner Garcia has the right idea, but it’s going to take time to make a difference.

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  1. Jason Hochman says:

    why is the county prioritizing white people to receive the vaccine. I just read a post on this very blog a few days ago that said statewide supply of vaccinations was now exceeding demand, and that counties that were more poor and white had lower rates of vaccination.

    So it appears that Harris County has a biased leadership. As for the state, I don’t understand how counties can be poor and white. The white people should be informed of their privilege, and then the money will roll in…

  2. ken roberts says:

    The county mostly didn’t prioritize richer, white people to get the vaccine. They had the public health campaign mentioned above. They also prioritized minority zip codes at NRG as mentioned here:

    As mentioned, they did prioritize older people, which were more likely to be white. It is hard to fault them for that given COVID’s risk factors with age.

    The main problem is they did not do enough to overcome the socioeconomic factors that caused whites to get vaccinated at a much higher rate. One of those factors was eagerness/willingness to get the vaccine, which is hard to beat.

    I found it fairly easy to schedule a vaccine at a local pharmacy online. However, I am online all day and have a car to travel 6 miles to one. That isn’t so easy for many poor residents. Perhaps we can do more to bring the vaccine to the poorer neighborhoods. That is more logistically difficult and expensive, especially with the cheaper and less difficult J&J vaccine suspended.

    My main point is that Harris County isn’t prioritizing white people to get the vaccine. They made a sincere attempt to make it more equitable and did make it more equitable…it was just insufficient to overcome other factors. They should do more, though that costs money.

    p.s. I ignored your intentional misunderstanding of how white privilege mostly works. Being white doesn’t guarantee financial success and that life won’t be difficult. White privilege means that your skin color won’t of those obstacles…nor the reason you get pulled over, preemptively treated like a criminal, etc.