Questions raised whether Hispanic community will be among first to get COVID-19 vaccine in Austin

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Fresh data from the state shows the Central Texas area reached a grim figure on Friday: 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the 15 counties surrounding Austin.

Austin Public Health numbers show the Hispanic community is still hit the hardest locally. Now, just days before the vaccine is expected to arrive, some are asking whether Latinos will be among the early priority groups.

There’s a mural on the corner of 5th and Congress, dedicated to the now more than 200 Hispanic lives lost to the virus at a disproportionate rate. 

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

“Reading this, reality just hits you even harder,” Sinuehue Villafana said.

 The bold image caught Villafana’s attention, who said he too lost family members to COVID-19.

“It’s just like the sense of worry and the fear, because everybody has children.”

Paul Saldana with the Austin Latino Coalition is worried about equity and access to the vaccine, since he says there’s been a lack of public education and engagement so far.

 “We are actually waiting on the Latino Coalition for feedback on the survey before we can finish a draft plan,” APH said. “They are one of the last organizations (out of 200) to respond/engage.”

Texas will initially allocate COVID-19 vaccines based on the following criteria:

  • Protecting health care workers who fill a critical role in caring for and preserving the lives of COVID-19 patients and maintaining the health care infrastructure for all who need it.
  • Protecting frontline workers who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their work providing critical services and preserving the economy.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations who are at greater risk of severe disease and death if they contract COVID-19.
  • Mitigating health inequities due to factors such as demographics, poverty, insurance status and geography.
  • Data-driven allocations using the best available scientific evidence and epidemiology at the time, allowing for flexibility for local conditions.
  • Geographic diversity through a balanced approach that considers access in urban and rural communities and in affected ZIP codes.
  • Transparency through sharing allocations with the public and seeking public feedback.

“We feel we know our community best, and we’re waiting on them to give us specifics, so we can work with them, to make sure our community is standing in line like everybody else,” Saldana said. 

APH said it’s taking direction from the state and federal levels, saying it is still drafting a plan for distribution, which will be shown to the coalition once it’s done.

“Something tells me, that we’re going to have to be prepared to fend for ourselves again,” Saldana said.  

APH said there are a number of resources provided.

“…we give resources such as informational packets, PPE, testing, etc.,” APH said.

 On a gloomy day that matches the tone of those in the eye of the storm, Villafana hopes the lives lost aren’t forgotten. 

“This isn’t a joke, we’re actually, literally seeing people die,” he said.  

APH said once its first draft of the distribution plan is finalized, its coalition and the entire community will have a chance to add input to make sure it is equitable for everyone. 

“Mitigating Health Inequities” due to factors like demographics, poverty, insurance status and geography, is one of seven criteria the state says it’s using to decide how to allocate COVID-19 vaccines.

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