With the various coronavirus vaccines now circulating throughout the nation, the conversation about the pandemic has shifted to include the logistics of distributing doses efficiently, sufficiently and, to a lesser degree, equitably. A number of Dallas County Commissioners in Texas recently tried to tackle that issue of equity by passing a measure to prioritize vaccine doses for residents in neighborhoods that are majority Black and Latino.
According to a report from the Dallas Morning News, the decision came after a review of data collected by the county showed that most vaccine shots have been going to residents of neighborhoods that are largely white and rich. This, despite the numbers showing that coronavirus has hospitalized more Black and brown residents in Dallas than other demographic groups. An epidemiologist there even pointed out to the Dallas Observer that three of the hardest hit communities are those that lie south of a highway that essentially divides Dallas on racial and financial lines.
County commissioners voted earlier this week to focus vaccine distribution on those very communities, moving from a policy of prioritizing people 75 and older, because data showed residents of color to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections as well as already experiencing long-existing health inequities.
It was a decent plan, until the Texas Department of State Health Services kiboshed it.
From the Texas Tribune:
“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 to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer consider it a hub provider.”
Garcia asked Dallas for an update on the vaccination plan by Thursday morning. Her letter came after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wrote to state officials asking whether the county’s plan was permissible.
The county government is responsible for just 10% of the vaccines distributed in Dallas County. Most of the vaccines are actually distributed by hospitals and other health-related institutions.
Ain’t that some shit? Apparently it wasn’t an issue when vaccines from this distribution center were almost exclusively going to people who are white—as long as this wasn’t stated as the result of an explicit policy and merely just viewed as a usual and acceptable consequence of systemic racism. But when county leaders tried to be proactive in focusing sorely needed protection on the Black and brown people who are dying from COVID at almost three times the rate of white people, they were threatened with having their vaccine allocation cut as punishment.
Though Black people across the country continue to be understandably cautious about availing themselves of the coronavirus vaccines given this country’s history of harmful and racist health practices, it appears the bigger concern for our communities might be getting equal access to a vaccine in the first place.