How Arlington is combatting low vaccination rates in underserved communities

About three months after COVID-19 immunization efforts began in Arlington, vaccination rates across the city continue to rise, but a few zip codes still lag behind. 

As of April 5, Tarrant County reported 18% of its residents have had at least one vaccine dose, and the majority of Arlington zip codes show vaccination rates higher than the county average. 

Currently the highest-vaccinated zip code in the city is 76016, a region in southwest Arlington north of I-20 between Lake Arlington and South Bowen Road, with over 35%. The lowest is 76010, a region in east Arlington north of West Pioneer Parkway stretching from UTA to just east of Texas Loop 360, with over 11%. 

Residents in the 76010 zip code claim a lack of information, availability and a distrust of the vaccine safety are factors in the discrepancy. 

Health experts have cited reduced access to traditional health care centers, public reluctance to see doctors and existing inequalities as key obstacles for vaccine distribution. 

Arlington resident James Stankosky lives in the 76010 zip code and said he does not plan to get a vaccine. He said he’s unsure of the safety of the vaccines, and others in his area share his skepticism. 

A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans have become more open to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but as of January, 51% do not plan on receiving a dose immediately. 

Stankosky said economic instability may also play a role in his neighbors’ lack of vaccinations. 

“They’re very busy trying to make a living and just make ends meet with these hard times we’ve got going on,” he said. 

Arlington resident Rita Baeza said she believes the system is too complicated, especially for the elderly. She said older individuals may have difficulties navigating the online registration forms. 

Currently, Tarrant County residents must individually register online through the Tarrant County Public Health website. Once registered, the county will notify residents by phone call, text or email with instructions to receive their vaccine. 

To combat the disparate vaccination rates in the city, Arlington Fire Department has begun a new mobile vaccination program. Lt. Richard Fegan, Arlington Fire Department public information officer, said the program allows the department to connect directly to the community and administer vaccines to residents who are homebound. 

In addition to mobile vaccinations, the department has implemented small-scale vaccination sites within underserved communities. These vaccination sites are meant to supplement the existing vaccination efforts in the city, Fegan said. The department has used facilities like Cornerstone Baptist Church and Saint Matthew Catholic Church in targeted areas to distribute single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines.  Fegan said using churches as vaccination sites provides advantages for those in communities with lower vaccination rates. 

“Those who maybe don’t have internet access or didn’t successfully register through the county, they have a face-to-face opportunity to sign up for an event,” he said. “So these things are proving useful.” 

Fegan said Tarrant County is informed by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index when making decisions on vaccine distribution. The index considers factors like poverty, vehicle access and household composition and ranks them in order to show where needs are greatest. Fegan said the discrepancies in vaccination rates may be caused by disinformation spread by popular media outlets and a general distrust of the vaccines. 

“There’s a wide range of factors, and it’s our job to just encourage people to get it and then facilitate that once they’re interested,” he said.  

Veronica Griffith, interim church administrator and minister of communication at Cornerstone Baptist Church, said their congregation has a minority population of roughly 85% and there was significant hesitation toward getting vaccinated. 

Sharing concerns with other residents about the speed of vaccine development, Griffith said minorities may also consider incidents of public health deception like the infamous Tuskegee Experiment. This was a study conducted in 1932 to study the effects of syphilis in Black people. The researchers misled the 600 Black participants and didn’t provide proper treatment for their disease.

Griffith said her church has tried to alleviate concerns by having Black doctors and nurses provide information to the congregation through virtual meetings and information sessions.  

Members of the congregation who participated at the vaccination event on March 25 were impressed by the efficiency of the process and grateful to receive the vaccines, Griffith said. 

Despite the disparate vaccination rates found throughout the city, Griffith said the city has done a good job in providing vaccine access and information to its residents. 

Fegan said residents interested in participating in the community outreach vaccinations should contact their local church to register. For those who do not live near a church participating in the program, the best way to get vaccinated is to register at the Tarrant County Public Health vaccine website. 

“The most important and the most effective way, at this point, to ensure that you receive the vaccine is [to] be registered through the county,” he said.  

@ColeKembel

news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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