Most of the Tarrant County residents who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are from predominantly white affluent neighborhoods, highlighting officials’ struggles to reach minority and low-income neighborhoods.
“What you’re seeing develop is what we’ve seen several times,” said Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director. “The tale of two Americas: those who have and those who have not.”
A majority of people who have received at least one dose are in predominantly white ZIP codes in Colleyville, Benbrook, Hurst, far north Fort Worth, Southlake and Kennedale, according to county data. These areas have a vaccination rate between 15% and 23%.
There is one exception: ZIP code 76155 has a 23% vaccination rate. It covers Fort Worth, Euless, Grand Prairie and Irving, and about 33.4% of its residents are Black; 23.6% are white.
But in the county’s 76105 ZIP code, home to the historically Black Stop Six and Polytechnic neighborhoods, there’s only a 3.3% vaccination rate. The rate is about 8% in the predominately Black and Hispanic 76104, which has the lowest life expectancy in the state.
When looking at the rates in the Black community, people must remember two factors, said Jason Shelton, director of the Center for African American Studies at UT Arlington. One is a mistrust of the medical field because of past experiments. Another explanation might be that a limited supply of vaccines is not having an impact yet on a community that makes up 18% of the county’s population.
He said he believes that the picture will become more clear once the vaccines are more widely available.
The minority and low-income areas also tend to be younger, and healthy people under 65 are not eligible for a vaccine unless they’re a first responder or health care worker.
But Taneja has said age shouldn’t be an issue because Tarrant County’s Black community has a high burden of chronic diseases. Almost half suffers from hypertension, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, he said.
“By default, a lot of this community is eligible for a vaccine,” Taneja said.
In Fort Worth’s overwhelmingly Hispanic Diamond Hill neighborhood, 4% of residents have been vaccinated.
The Latino and Hispanic populations are not signing up because they have a general fear and mistrust of government, said Roxanne Martinez, a community leader in Diamond Hill. People are afraid they will be asked about their immigration status, she said.
When signing up, Tarrant County doesn’t ask for people’s immigration status nor does it ask immigration questions at vaccination sites. Martinez said her community has been leaning on neighbors and leaders to debunk misinformation.
“My parents just got their second dose last week and I’ve encouraged my mom to share her experience with her neighbors,” Martinez said.
Taneja attributes the disparity to a hesitancy to sign up and challenges to access information, such as people not having a computer or access to the internet.
“There have been people who already had the info, they could easily read it on a website,” Taneja said. “They could pull out a smartphone and sign up. So the signups were higher in those communities, and lower in the communities that needed it the most.”
A combined effort
Leaders have organized registration drives in low-income and minority communities.
Martinez organized a registration drive that was scheduled for Saturday at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School.
“It’s very personal for me because I’m tired of seeing my neighbors die,” she said.
County commissioner Devan Allen organized two similar sign-up drives earlier this month in Arlington. She has plans to continue setting up events to educate people and register them for the vaccine.
“It’s been a priority of mine to make sure that we are keeping our community updated and educated on COVID,” Allen said.
There have also been efforts by churches, barbershops, grocery stores and other businesses to encourage and educate people about the vaccine, said Leah King, president and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County.
Tarrant County Churches has agreed to talk to congregations about the vaccine, King said.
Tarrant County Public Health sent MedStar with some vaccines to Stop Six to register and inoculate people, but with a limited supply, the effort did not make a dent in the numbers.
Most recently, Taneja said, his department has begun conversations with UNT Health Science Center about getting people in these communities registered, but they have not come up with a plan.
On Tuesday, Tarrant County commissioners agreed to move away from prioritizing hard-hit ZIP codes. Instead, the health department will use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability map. It ranks areas by socioeconomic status, household demographics, access to transportation and how well its residents speak English.
Most vulnerable populations are southeast of Interstate 35W and Interstate 30. The county will prioritize about 25% of its vaccine allocation to this new plan.
“The focus has shifted to getting a more equitable approach,” Taneja said.