‘No one gets left behind’: Harris County prioritizes COVID-19 vaccine access for vulnerable residents

‘No one gets left behind’: Harris County prioritizes COVID-19 vaccine access for vulnerable residents

From left: Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis speak on equitable practices in vaccine distribution at a March 25 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy Harris County judge’s office)

More than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed throughout Harris County as of March 25, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced during a press conference March 25.

She commended Harris County Public Health for reaching a higher proportion of vulnerable individuals compared to overall vaccination rates by providers countywide, mentioning the importance of equitably vaccinating Black and Hispanic populations among other demographics who traditionally lack access to health care.

“We need to make sure that everybody gets vaccinated from all communities not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the only way to reach herd immunity,” she said. “When it comes to vaccines, truly, no one gets left behind—that’s our mantra, and that’s what we’re going to continue to push for.”

Black and Hispanic residents encompass 17.5% and 31.1% of individuals who have had at least one dose from HCPH, compared to 9.8% and 19.9% of those who have received vaccines countywide. However, nearly 12% of individuals vaccinated by all providers countywide did not have a known race, according to a report the county released March 25.

But officials said the Black and Hispanic populations are still being vaccinated by HCPH at a disproportionately low rate when compared to the county’s population, which consists of 18.7% Black residents and 43.3% Hispanic residents. About 29% of the county’s population is white, but more than 35% of HCPH’s vaccinations have been for white residents.

County initiatives to increase vaccine access for marginalized populations include bringing vaccines to the ZIP codes hit hardest by COVID-19, offering transportation to appointments for those who need it, visiting homeless shelters and nursing homes to register residents, and setting up a vaccine hotline at 832-927-8787 for individuals without the capabilities to register online.

Hidalgo, alongside county Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, called on vaccine providers throughout the county to focus on equity in distribution efforts in outreach, registration and access. Read about equity efforts made by officials at regional hospital system Houston Methodist here.

For example, providing the option to register over the phone instead of exclusively online, ensuring residents know the vaccine is free, and removing ID requirements that might discourage uninsured residents or residents living in the country illegally from registering could eliminate barriers to the vaccine, she said.

“We must make the entire process and experience easy, welcoming [and] encouraging for all to participate,” Garcia said. “Reducing the bureaucracy and the requirements is key for Harris County to lead the state in achieving herd immunity and getting us back to normal as quickly as possible.”

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