City and state leaders express frustration over COVID-19 vaccine ‘inequity’

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a press conference Saturday pushing for COVID-19 vaccine distribution equity.

"We need to be a lot more intentional and directional," said Mayor Turner.  "Equity has to be built in to all of our strategies."

The Mayor was joined by several local and state representatives.  Many of the lawmakers spoke and agreed with Turner.

"We’re demanding that you rollout the vaccine as it should be rolled out, to communities of color," said Texas State Senator Borris Miles.

According to Houston’s Health Department, the majority of people severely impacted so far by COVID-19 in the city have been Black or Hispanic.  However, Mayor Turner says these communities aren’t the ones receiving Coronavirus vaccines.

"We know which communities the virus is spreading in," said Dr. David Persse from Houston’s Health Department.  "Therefore, it’s those communities we are obligated to spend most of our effort and time."

On Saturday, Mayor Turner told reporters that 43% of vaccine recipients so far in Houston have been white.  In comparison, 21% have been Hispanic, 18% black, and 15% Asian.

"We need speed but we need equity," said Turner.  "Otherwise, people of color are going to be on the back-end and the [fatality] numbers are going to continue to go up."

"Vaccine distribution in Texas needs to be efficient, fair and equitable," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in a written statement.  "That’s why we have been working so hard here at the local level to make sure the very limited supply of vaccines we’ve received so far is distributed equitably. As a community, we are all interconnected, and we will never fully recover from this crisis if our exit is blocked by uneven access to vaccines.  Tragically, the very same vulnerable communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 are the same ones with lack of access to healthcare and transportation. We must work together to make sure no one falls through the cracks."

The largest "mega-site" in Texas so far is Texas Motor Speedway in Denton County.  This last week, the single site venue distributed roughly 30,000 COVID-19 vaccines.

"Ten thousand doses per-day being given in Denton County, for one site," said Mayor Turner.  "So in 3 days they get up to 30,000.  The City of Houston in 6 weeks, gets a total of 41,000."

A spokesperson from Texas Department of State Health Services responded to the Turner’s complaint late Saturday evening.

"This week there was a one-time return of 126,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that Texas was required to set aside for the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program," said Lara Anton from DSHS.  "The program overestimated the amount of vaccine needed, so doses were given back to the states. DSHS allocated the doses from the long-term care program to providers in counties where allocations have been significantly less than their share of the population, particularly in the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston area. Prior to this most recent week, Denton County was one of the counties that had been allocated the least doses for their percentage of the state’s population. The cumulative amount of doses allocated to providers is Denton County is 91,100. They will be receiving 9,750 doses next week.  The cumulative amount of doses allocated to providers in Harris County is 666,400. Harris County providers will be receiving 40,425 doses next week."

Many of the people who spoke at Turner’s press conference Saturday expressed frustration directed towards the state and federal government.  Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said she’d like to see FEMA and the national government help distribute the vaccines.

"The question is not only racial equity, racial equality, but it is racial justice," said Congresswoman Lee.

While the Houston Health Department receives roughly 9,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, hospitals and other providers receive more.  Mayor Turner expressed a desire for hospitals to share those doses.

A spokesperson from Methodist Hospital responded to FOX 26 on Saturday about the issue involving COVID-19 vaccine distribution equity.

"Houston Methodist continues to make a concerted effort to reach out to minority and underserved communities in our efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible," said Patti Muck from Houston Methodist.  "We work with our health care partners in the community to ensure people from the hardest hit zip codes receive invitations to our vaccine hubs."