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Harris County vaccination data shows African-American, Latino residents have fallen behind

Black and Latino Harris County residents received the COVID-19 vaccine at lower rates than their white counterparts, according to a county analysis that also found a person’s likelihood of vaccination, to date, largely has depended on where they live.

The findings underscore what a Houston Chronicle analysis found last month: Even though African-American and Latino communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19 in Texas, they are being vaccinated at a much slower pace.

The gap exists despite a Harris County public health campaign crafted to convince residents of color to get the vaccine. And it is significant: In the highest-participation ZIP code, 77046 in Upper Kirby, 87 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Fourteen miles north in Greenspoint, 77060, 8 percent of residents have.

“That disparity is so disappointing, but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Rice University health economist Vivian Ho. “A large portion of the vaccines in the state went to the hospital systems, who just went through their electronic records — so if you’re insured, which means you’re more likely to be white, then it was easy for them to sign you up.”

Of the 20 Harris County ZIP codes with vaccination rates of at least 31 percent, 18 have predominantly white residents. Sixteen are in the so-called Houston Arrow, the section of Houston from Oak Forest southeast to downtown, southwest to Meyerland, north to the Galleria and west through the Energy Corridor that is significantly whiter and more affluent than other parts of the city.

Much of the data from 77030 likely is incorrect, the report notes, since the Texas Medical Center is located there and many hospitals appear to have listed that ZIP code as a way of expediting patient appointments.

Of the 20 county ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates, none of which exceed 15 percent, 18 are mostly nonwhite. None are in the Arrow.

The Commissioners Court Analyst’s Office report, prepared at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, examined the data behind the 1.02 million Harris County residents who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, from any provider, through March 29.

Of those residents, 35 percent were white; by comparison, Harris County is about 29 percent white. Asians and Pacific Islanders also were slightly over-represented, comprising 11 percent of vaccine recipients and 7 percent of residents.

Overall, 10 percent of the county’s vaccine recipients were Black, despite African Americans accounting for about 19 percent of the population. Hispanic residents had the greatest disparity, accounting for 43 percent of the county population but just 24 percent of those vaccinated.

Alison Hare, chief resiliency officer for Harris County Public Health, said the gap is attributable in part to the fact that the initial groups of eligible recipients, which included health care workers, first responders and the elderly, are whiter than the county population as a whole.

She said the department chose 25 ZIP codes based on factors that include how hard they were hit by the pandemic and how many cases they have currently, and made residents there a priority for vaccine appointments. She said that approach has had some success, and the department will add and subtract ZIP codes from the targeted list as necessary.

“Our data analysis actually happens weekly if not daily,” Hare said. “It’s something we’re constantly looking at: what are our (vaccination) percentages? Where is our focus happening geographically?

The two commissioner precincts with the highest share of white residents, 3 and 4, had the highest vaccination rates, both above 16 percent. Precinct 1, which has the largest proportion of African Americans, was just below 16 percent. Just 13 percent of residents in Garcia’s Precinct 2, which is mostly Latino, have received at least one dose.

Garcia said he asked for the study because he wanted to identify areas in Harris County that need greater vaccine outreach. He praised the county’s mass vaccination site at the NRG campus, but said many of his constituents lack access to public or private transportation to travel to the site or the Texas Medical Center, which are in Precinct 1.

“We want to make sure we’re being creative and thoughtful about where are the masses in the precinct that may be a way to help us move that needle in a better direction?

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