Though Houston-area residents, like most across the country, have returned to pre-COVID-19 pandemic lives and activities, operating as if they are through with the pandemic. However, the numbers of those contracting the virus, those dying from the coronavirus, or those who survived, yet are suffering from long COVID, make perfectly clear that COVID-19 is not yet through with us.
And as usual, those hit hardest by negative health realities are people of color: more specifically, Black people. Even more specifically, Black women.
To address this harsh reality, the City of Houston has launched a counter-attack to get the number of Houstonians, especially those who live in the city’s Complete Communities, vaccinated and boosted.
Enter the Equitable Vaccination Acceptance and Distribution project, or VAX HOU, a grant-funded initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation to increase vaccine equity in Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities around the city of Houston.
“The VAX HOU initiative was designed to provide health interventions in some of Houston’s most socially vulnerable communities by slowing the spread of COVID-19 and its emerging variants,” said Shannon Buggs, director of the Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities.
Though COVID-19 is theoretically colorblind, its impact is not. And that includes vaccination rates.
“Statistics have shown that while over 50% of Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, less than one-third of these vaccines have gone to Black people and other people of color. This population across the United States is statistically more likely to die from COVID-19 as compared to white Americans; however, the vaccine is not readily available in BIPOC-dense communities, leading to a serious disadvantage,” said Buggs.
The VAX HOU team is working with the Houston Health Department (HHD), the Houston Health Foundation (HHF), and the Mayor’s Health Equity Response (HER) Task Force to facilitate four vaccine distribution events a month in Houston’s 10 Complete Communities.
“These neighborhoods are historically under-resourced and underserved neighborhoods that require extra effort across multiple sectors to address historic inequities and present-day disparities that lessen the life expectancy and diminish the overall quality of life for their residents,” added Buggs.
From VAX HOU’s 91 vaccination events, the organization has facilitated the vaccination of 672 individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latino and 493 Blacks, making up 57% and 37% respectively of those this project has vaccinated.
Statistics show that BIPOC communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, including lack of access to personal protection equipment (PPE), proper health education, testing sites, and vaccines.
“Our project hopes to increase vaccine rates and decrease infection rates in these communities not only through vaccination efforts but also by providing culturally competent COVID-19 education and personal protection equipment, including masks and hand sanitizers. We are accomplishing our mission by using a three-pronged partnership approach consisting of an education partner, a health partner, and a “physicians of color” group. Through this collaborative effort, we are breaking down common barriers to receiving quality health care, such as language differences, health misinformation, lack of transportation, and lack of clinics and healthcare facilities close to home,” said Buggs.
Of Houston’s 10 Complete Communities, Sunnyside (275) and Gulfton (211) have the most persons vaccinated by VAX HOU. In fact, 37% of all VAX Hou vaccinations have taken place in just those two neighborhoods. This suggests a lot of work needs to be done in the other eight Complete Communities neighborhoods.
Along with the VAX HOU efforts listed, the entity eventually hopes to establish a permanent vaccination site in each Complete Community.