Prioritizing Certain Racial Groups for COVID-19 Vaccination Is ‘Immoral,’ GOP Dallas County Commissioner Says

In a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Republican Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch criticized the county’s tiered COVID-19 distribution plan, which partially prioritizes certain racial groups over others, characterizing the idea as “immoral.” 

Koch also accused county Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, of using the issue to advance “political ambitions,” suggesting Jenkins is angling to run for governor.

“Rather than targeting zip codes or socioeconomic status or the real social determinants of health, we’re just going to target those of a particular race and [I believe that] to be immoral,” Koch said.

Koch stated that the logistics of distributing the vaccine is a “thorny moral issue,” and took the position that it is legitimate to make efforts to correct disparities, but it should be based on factors such as zip codes and socioeconomic status rather than race. He further contended that prioritizing certain racial groups would be like prioritizing men for the coronavirus vaccine because men are affected at higher rates than women.

“It looked like a political puff deal,” Koch said, referring to the plan. “It looked like an opportunity for Judge Jenkins to say, ‘Look at this, Black Lives Matter, help me in my primary as I run for governor,’ rather than being very serious about a serious thing[.]”

In a presentation to the commissioners court on Tuesday, Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s chief health official, indicated that virtually all frontline healthcare workers in Dallas County have been offered or given the coronavirus vaccine. Huang explained that 85,500 vaccines have been granted to Dallas County to date.

The tiers are divided into two major sections — “A” and “B.” Tier A includes frontline healthcare workers, EMS personnel, and residents of long-term care facilities, among other essential workers who are often exposed to COVID-19.

The second tier, Tier B, is one that has drawn criticism for its prioritization of a limited number of racial minorities — African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native American individuals — over persons of other races. Healthy individuals in these racial groups would not be prioritized over people in more urgent tiers, but persons of those races who are “at the [highest risk] for complications” would be closer to the front of the line.

The sentiment underlying this directive is that groups of people disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic should be given priority to balance the inequity. Opponents such as Koch contend that such policies are politically motivated and not consistent with scientific research.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s guidelines for distributing the vaccine includes “mitigating health inequities due to factors such as demographics, poverty, insurance status and geography.”

Jenkins seemed to suggest on Tuesday that the distribution of the vaccine should not be taken as an indication that COVID-19 precautions are unimportant.

“Vaccination is a critical tool in our tool kit, but we must continue to use all tools including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding contact outside your immediate household when possible,” Jenkins wrote on Twitter.

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