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Tarrant County Plans to Emphasize Racial Equity in Vaccine Distribution

Earlier this month, when Tarrant County began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, the county came under fire for long lines and waits beyond appointment times. It has since been working on plans to improve distribution, which include a heavy emphasis on equity.

Commissioner Devan Allen (D-Pct. 2) emphasized that equity is one of her key concerns in vaccine distribution. “Our neighbors can’t be reduced to an abstraction because we are indifferent. In making decisions about how resources are allocated, we must be careful about equitable distribution.”

“After three weeks [of vaccine distribution], we have deficiencies. Equity is one of those deficiencies. We must concentrate on every community, demographic, age group, and income level,” Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks (D-Pct. 1) added. 

Tarrant County Public Health is keeping track of vaccine distribution among different ethnic and racial groups, although over 50 percent of those who register to receive the vaccine do not indicate their ethnicity, Public Health Director Vinny Taneja pointed out to the commissioners court.

According to the statistics, about 38 percent of those who have received the vaccine are white, but 57 percent are of unknown ethnicity.

About 350,000 are currently registered with Tarrant County to receive a vaccine and about 44,000 have been administered so far.  

“The challenge for us as policymakers is to put shots in 2.1 million arms — to put shots in the arm of every resident of Tarrant County, not just every citizen,” Brooks said. “The vaccine is our best hope to get out in front of the virus.” No mention was made of early treatment options promoted by doctors around the country.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) is working with the county to develop a comprehensive distribution plan which would focus on reaching all patients through various delivery modes and with a variety of partnerships.

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams, who has been involved with various vaccine efforts with past federal administrations, gave the presentation to the commissioners on behalf of UNTHSC.

Vaccine distribution would be set up in mobile units, in high traffic areas like shopping centers, and at large employers in the city. Trent-Adams also suggested that school-based clinics would be an option to vaccinate many, including teachers, staff, and students. Parental permission was not addressed during the presentation.

The plan would also focus on developing partnerships with community-based clinics, pharmacies, EMS technicians and other first responders, civic organizations, faith-based clinics, and colleges.  

“We have important resources and they want to help, but they don’t know how,” Trent-Adams explained.

Trent-Adams also added that in order for the distribution plan to be successful in reaching underserved populations, it must address factors such as mistrust of the health care system and beliefs regarding the safety of the vaccine, hours of vaccine distribution during normal workdays, and lack of available transportation.

“There is structural racism that exists,” Trent-Adams told the commissioners, “and we must deal with it.”

The county commissioners court unanimously approved an agreement to work with UNTHSC on improving vaccine distribution.

County Judge Glen Whitley (R) urged UNTHSC to work speedily. “I don’t want to wake up in two weeks with 100,000 vaccines and not enough capacity to get them out.” 

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