Who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Austin? APH releases new demographic data

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health launched a new COVID-19 vaccine distribution dashboard Saturday (viewable here for desktop and here on mobile devices) which shows the demographics of the more than 31,000 people they have provided COVID-19 vaccine doses to so far.

APH is one of 350 COVID-19 vaccine providers in Travis County that have been approved by the state, so this dashboard does not reflect every vaccine administered in the Austin area. However, APH is one of the major state-designated “hubs” for vaccine distribution and has been recently receiving around 12,000 doses per week from the state — significantly more than any other provider in the Austin area.

The vaccine recipients represented on the dashboard skews older than Travis County’s population as a whole, with nearly 70% of those vaccinated by APH at 60 years of age or older. Austin health leaders have said this age distribution is to be expected, especially considering anyone over the age of 65 is eligible for the COVID-19 right now under the state of Texas’ 1B tier criteria.

Throughout the vaccine rollout, Austin-area elected officials and community groups have asked Austin Public Health for details about how vaccine distribution would be made equitable in Austin, especially considering Black and Hispanic Austinites make up a disproportionate rate of the area’s COVID-19 deaths.

On Friday, Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott cautioned, “we’ve got to be very careful about interpreting the equity of allocations [of the COVID-19 vaccine] right now based on race and ethnicity because right now the national priority is on older individuals.”

He noted that Travis County’s population over 65 years old is much less diverse than the rest of the city. According to 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, 48% of Travis County’s overall population, 48.8% of the county’s residents are white non-Hispanic, 33.6% are Hispanic or Latino, and 8.2% are Black. By comparison, the 2019 ACS data shows that out of Travis County’s population of those age 65 and older, 68.2% are white non-Hispanic, 18.1% are Hispanic or Latino and 7.6 % are Black.

“This is due to some of the underlying social determinants of health that lead to shorter life expectancies for our communities of color,” Escott explained.

The demographics of the people APH has vaccinated for COVID-19 so far look more similar to Travis County’s over 65 demographics: 64% white, 18.8% Hispanic, and 4% Black.

The numbers

Austin Public Health says this data is updated weekly, with the most recent data up-to-date through the week ending January 29, 2021.

Cumulatively, Austin Public Health has administered 31,251 COVID-19 doses, with 31,219 of those as first doses. A spokesperson noted the totals on the dashboard are missing some of the doses they administered from before online registration was available. APH is working to update that data, the spokesperson said.

Currently, APH lists that it administered 8,021 COVID-19 vaccine doses for the week ending on January 29, 2021, with 5,071 of those doses going to people 65 or older and 2,950 of those vaccines going to people 64 or younger.

Of the COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by APH, the department reports 58.16% went to women and 41.54% went to men.

Of all the doses the department administered, 68.99% went to people age 60 and up, with 28.41% going to people between 60 and 69, 29.31% going to people between 70 and 79, and 11.27% going to people ages 80 and up.

Race and Ethnicity in vaccine distribution

Travis County PopulationWhite, Non-HispanicHispanic or LatinoBlack or African American
48.8%33.6%8.2%
Demographics of Travis County’s overall population according to the 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate.
Travis County Population over 65White, Non-HispanicHispanic or LatinoBlack or African American
68.2%18.1% 7.6%
Demographics of Travis County’s population over the age of 65 according to the 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate.
APH COVID-19 Vaccine RecipientsWhiteHispanic or LatinoBlack
64.04%18.88%4%
Demographics of the more than 31,000 people Austin Public Health has administered the COVID-19 vaccine to. Data from the Austin Public Health dashboard as of February 7, 2021.

The APH data newly posted on the dashboard indicates that 7.89% of its COVID-19 vaccine recipients so far are Asian and 4.6% have an unknown race or ethnicity.

An Austin Public Health spokesperson explained to KXAN that the department cannot give people priority for the COVID-19 vaccine based on their race or ethnicity. While the public health department is trying to target COVID-19 vaccine outreach toward subsets of the Austin community who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, when it comes to distributing doses, Austin Public Health must allow vaccinations to anyone who falls under the state’s 1B criteria.

Geographic distribution

Austin Public Health COVID-19 vaccine distribution by zip code, as shown on the APH dashboard on February 8, 2021.

Austin Public Health’s new dashboard also includes a map of the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses that have gone to zip codes and regions around Austin. With the exception of Pflugerville, the areas to the east of I-35 are generally receiving fewer vaccine doses than the areas to the west of I-35.

I-35 in Austin traces the boundary of segregationist policies from Austin’s 1928 Master Plan which pushed Black and Hispanic communities to the east of present-day I-35. A council resolution last year noted the residual effects of this segregationist policy from nearly a century ago can still be felt in Austin today.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston mapped out the areas in Austin with populations most at risk for severe complications due to COVID-19 (including poverty, high risk of severe disease, and high financial need). Their findings indicated the Austin communities most at risk for COVID-19 complications were largely east of I-35.

Improving outreach

“Quite frankly, I was really disappointed in seeing the numbers,” said Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes who represents District 2 in southeast Austin after she saw the demographic data on COVID-19 distribution from Austin Public Health.

“Of course, you always hope for the best, but I felt that, you know, we can be doing more and should be doing more to ensure that we are being equitable in how we administer our vaccines,” Fuentes continued.

She pointed out that Austin’s Latino community makes up a disproportionately high rate of the COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Austin area.

“We have to center our communities that are being affected the most to ensure we are curbing the spread of the virus and reducing risk, thereby saving lives,” she said.

She acknowledges that Austin Public Health has been striving to bring more equity into the vaccine distribution process, for example, by partnering with Travis County to expand the call center to help more people with COVID-19 vaccine appointments who may not be computer-literate. Austin Public Health said the expanded call center operation, in partnership with Travis County, should be ready to begin on Monday.

“We also saw in the data for our African American community is nowhere near where we want it to be in proportion to the population they represent in Travis County,” Fuentes added of the APH COVID-19 vaccine distribution data. “We have to make sure that we are reducing barriers to getting access to the vaccine and getting the word out to our community and ensuring that folks know it’s safe to get vaccinated and that they know where to sign up to get the vaccine and that the data reflects our community.”

Austin Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1 in east and northeast Austin, noted that she is grateful Austin Public Health was able to share this new demographic data so that elected officials can use it to help guide their decisions and outreach to the community going forward.

Like Fuentes, Harper Madison also expressed concern about the disproportionately low percentage of APH COVID-19 vaccine recipients who are Black.

“I didn’t see anything that I was surprised by,” Harper-Madison said of the APH COVID-19 vaccine distribution data, “but I am definitely recognizing that the numbers are definitely lower than we’d like to see them, in our Latino population, also in our Black population with us hovering around 4%, we could definitely do better. “

Based on her experience helping out with a phone bank for Austin COVID-19 vaccine outreach, Harper-Madison believes that the “digital divide” — the lack of internet access, computer literacy, or help for older people who need help navigating the online registration process — is a barrier that may have contributed to the particularly low rate of Black community members vaccinated by APH so far.

Harper-Madison, Fuentes, as well as Council Member Pio Renteria and Council Member Greg Casar represent the council districts covering East Austin (Districts 1, 2, 3, and 4). These four leaders are also the only four people of color on the council. They penned a letter together on January 26, explaining they are working with Austin Public Health to direct outreach to hard-hit communities, lead public imformation campaigns so communities know the vaccine is safe, coordinating with clinics that serve lower income individuals, and prioritizing high-risk individuals in ways that fit the state’s guidelines.

Harper-Madison said that she and the council members representing Districts 2, 3, and 4 are planning to share more information this week about a new volunteer outreach campaign to help more people in the Eastern Crescent get signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine. They plan to start knocking on doors in about a week.

Even if you are not part of this particular east Austin volunteer effort, Harper-Madison encourages you to check on the people in your circle, especially older individuals or those without internet, to see if they need help registering for the vaccine.

“This is definitely one of those times as a community we need to be looking around and seeing what it is that we can contribute,” she said.

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