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Austin Health Officials Say They Plan To Market The COVID-19 Vaccine To Vulnerable Communities

A sign from Austin Public Health encourages people to stay safe during the pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
An Austin Public Health sign at the Travis County Tax Office encourages people to follow health precautions during the pandemic.

Austin health officials say they're planning to have a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging vulnerable communities in the area to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

During a presentation held by the Travis County Medical Society and Dell Medical School at UT Austin on Thursday, local officials said they are already getting medical providers prepared for administering the vaccine.

Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said there is going to be a limited supply of the vaccine in the beginning. Texas could get more than 1.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines sometime in the next few weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday.

“The anticipation is going to be a substantial ramping up of doses in the following months,” Escott said.

The first vaccines expected to come to Texas are the Pfizer vaccine and then the Moderna vaccine a couple of weeks later, experts say. Each vaccine requires a second dose, which is supposed to be administered 21 or 28 days after the first dose, depending on the vaccine.

The distributor contracted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will distribute the vaccine to providers, Escott said, which includes pharmacies, long-term care facilities, physician offices and public health entities.

Watch Thursday's presentation below:

COVID-19 Vaccines: What You Need To Know (Dec. 3 Town Hall)

Health care providers who work in hospitals, as well as in emergency medical services, are going to be among the first wave of people to get the COVID-19 vaccine as early as December or January. Vaccinators, long-term care staff and other essential personnel are also on the shortlist.

Per federal guidelines, nursing home and long-term care residents will also be among the first to get vaccinated. Escott said Austinites over 65, as well as those with underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness, will also be some of the early groups to get vaccinated.

“As you get younger and healthier, the priority is going to decrease for vaccinating those individuals,” Escott said.

Stephanie Hayden, the director of Austin Public Health, said the vaccine itself will be free, but getting one won’t be entirely free for everyone.

“As a provider, we cannot charge the vaccine itself,” she said. “But what a provider can do is charge an administrative fee.”

She said individual providers will have to figure out how much it will cost to administer the vaccine to people, as well as how that will work with people who do and don't have insurance.

Hayden said one of the bigger tasks ahead of public health officials is messaging.

According to a recent national survey, fewer than half of Black people and 66% of Latino people reported that they would definitely or probably take a COVID-19 vaccine — even if it is free.

Communities of color in Texas have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. In Austin, the city’s Latino population was at one point twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

Hayden said she’s heard concerns from community members about the vaccine. She said getting information to the city’s most vulnerable populations is going to be very important as vaccinations are carried out.

“As a part of the process, we must develop community engagement [and] marketing materials that are specific to the vaccine,” she said.

Hayden said the most important thing will be for public health officials to be as transparent as possible. She said officials also plans on seeking out community ambassadors for the vaccine.

“We are wanting to … try to tailor and target our outreach efforts to address concerns,” she said. “We are definitely going to be working on that as a community, because our goal is that we really want the most vulnerable folks to get the vaccine.”

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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