Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this article, data from the Texas Department of State Health Services has been updated. The body of this article reflects the new numbers, but the video does not.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lieutenant Governor of Texas Dan Patrick responded to critics Friday, after comments he made Thursday night blaming the spread of COVID-19 on Democrats and the Black community.
“The biggest group in most states are African Americans, who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked, over 90% of them vote for Democrats,” Patrick said on Fox News Channel.
Patrick followed up on Twitter Friday, writing, “Federal and State data clearly indicate that Black vaccination rates are significantly lower than White or Hispanic rates.”
During a briefing on Friday, the interim director of Austin Public Health called Patrick’s comments a misinterpretation of the data.
While the largest number of unvaccinated Texans are white — the lowest rate of vaccination is among Texans who are Black.
The Texas Department of State Health Services indicates Travis County’s Black population lags behind its Asian, Hispanic and white counterparts in vaccination rates.
Michael Lofton, CEO of the African American Youth Harvest Foundation, said the low rate among the Black community has to do with mistrust.
“I have folks in my family… it was like pulling teeth to get them to take the vaccination,” Lofton said.
Even after family members died from the virus, Lofton said he still had to convince his son to trust the vaccine.
“How would you feel if you knew that you were the carrier, and you gave it to your daughter. Would you like that?” he asked his son.
Lofton has organized vaccine clinics for his community and said lack of trust is still a big challenge in getting Black Austinites vaccinated.
Cassandra DeLeon, APH chief admin officer for disease prevention and health promotion, said the rate indicates a lack of access to care.
Dr. Karen Johnson, RN, with University of Texas at Austin’s school of nursing, said that’s one of many reasons surrounding low vaccination rates among communities of color.
“First of all, I think it’s really important that we’re careful not to blame communities for, you know, being responsible for not getting the vaccines,” she said.
Johnson helped start VAMOS-Vax Now, UT’s popup vaccine program which targets low vaccination areas by partnering with trusted groups, like churches.
She said health leaders need to communicate vaccine information better and on a more personal level.
“They’re not bad questions. They don’t need to be belittled, they need to have people that they trust, who they can ask those questions to,” she said.
She and Lofton said more health groups need to partner with more community groups, like his, more often.
“Sometimes those boots on the ground have to be from folks that live in that community,” Lofton said. “It’s about when you go, but it’s also about who you send out there.”
If your health group would like to partner with VAMOS-Vax Now, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.