Editor’s note — This story now reflects that Austin Public Health only administers a third of all vaccine doses in Travis County. It also has correct and updated population and demographics data.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some of the people most affected by COVID-19 in Central Texas are the least likely to have access to resources for help.
Data shows the pandemic is hitting minority communities in Austin at a higher rate. At the same time, those in minority communities have been tested and vaccinated at a much lower rate than people who are white.
As of March 24, at least 297,436 people in Travis County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Austin Public Health has administered approximately a third of those doses in the county — 101,438 first doses as of March 20.
Austin Public Health has tried to target minority communities to some success. For example, the Delco Activity Center is one of the county’s vaccine distribution hubs, and it’s located in an area of Austin with a large minority population.
In Travis County, approximately 10% of the population are 65 years of age or older — 129,438 people based on 2019 population estimates. Of those, 68.2% are white, 18.1% are Latino, 7.6% are Black, and 5.1% are Asian.
Austin Public Health has vaccinated at higher rates for Latinos (28.9%) and Asians (8.5%) but at lower rates for Black (6.5%) and white (45.8%) populations. About a tenth (9.8%) of those vaccinated are of unknown race and ethnicity.
Online portal a challenge for minority communities
For all its efforts to target minority communities to get vaccinated, Austin Public Health has still run into some problems — especially online. The chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, Frank Fuentes, said that’s partly due to inconsistent access to APH’s online portal system.
“It didn’t work for the testing. What made them think it was going to work for the vaccine?” Fuentes asked in an interview with KXAN.
Fuentes is now working with APH and the Diocese of Austin on a new way to try to combat the problem. They’re using a new, faith-based vaccine distribution pilot program to help get more people in Hispanic and Black communities vaccinated.
This past weekend at Sacred Heart Church in northeast Austin, they vaccinated 1,760 people who didn’t have digital access to the portal or may struggle getting the vaccine because of their immigration status.
“We invited the folks. We had a very specific way to get folks there,” Fuentes said, explaining word went out through his contracting association, along with faith leaders encouraging people to sign up at Mass.
Fuentes says he and the Diocese of Austin were also able to tailor important messaging about the vaccine to the Hispanic community, explaining why it’s important to get vaccinated.
“If you are concerned, if you have a bit of fear, then that gives you the ability to go and get your vaccine and at the same time, receive that spirituality strength that sometimes you need to get something like this done,” he said.
APH is now looking to expand it to Black communities in April with help from the Austin Black Physicians Association.