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Despite High Vaccination Rate, El Paso Misses The Most Vulnerable

cars in line at a vaccination center in El Paso
Corrie Boudreaux
Courtesy El Paso Matters
Cars wait in long lines at the city of El Paso's COVID-19 vaccination site near the airport. The need to have transportation to reach the site is one of the sources of inequity in vaccine distribution.

From Texas Standard:

El Paso County is the first urban county in Texas to vaccinate 10% of residents with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

While that is an achievement, El Paso Matters CEO and editor, Bob Moore, says it doesn't tell the whole story about what El Pasoans are up against with the coroanvirus. He says the city "traded efficiency for equity" with its online vaccination appointment program, which has mainly benefited wealthier English speakers with internet access.

"There's a lot of concern that it's missing some of the most vulnerable," Moore told Texas Standard. "Basically, if you don't have transportation, if you're not web savvy, and most importantly, if you don't speak English, it's really hard to get signed up on these vaccine lists."

Two entities are coordinating vaccinations in El Paso, each with a slightly different approach. The city has an ongoing online waitlist of about 160,000 people, Moore says. But it has only about 5,000 doses to give each week. The county hospital, University Medical Center of El Paso, has tried a "pop-up" style approach, announcing batches of new appointments at once, online. But Moore says its website can't handle the influx of requests.

"Much like going for the hot concert ticket or sporting ticket, everybody hammers the website all at once. And UMC does not have the infrastructure that Ticketmaster does. So it kind of crashes the website and makes it difficult to get through," Moore said.

For now, the city and county are also hamstrung by the number of vaccine doses the state gives them. At the current rate, Moore says it will take El Paso two years to reach herd immunity, in which about 70% of people are vaccinated.

The only thing that would change that are more vaccine doses.

"We need more vaccines coming through, just like everywhere else in Texas. That's the ultimate answer," he said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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