Adrianne Bryant is looking forward to hugging her dad soon.

The Fort Worth resident’s father lives in Mesquite, but the 43-year-old has been staying away to ensure she does not give him COVID-19.

“I haven’t seen him since this started out,” Bryant said. “I’m not taking any chances. He has some underlying issues. His wife does as well. I’m just not taking any chances.”

If you go

What: North Texas Area Community Centers is offering 500 first dose Pfizer vaccines.

When: 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 24

Where: North Texas Area Community Area Health Center Northside, 2332 Beverly Hills Drive, Fort Worth

Bryant, who works in IT, was one step closer to fulfilling her wish after getting her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last weekend at the Northside Community Health Center. Unlike Bryant, many in Fort Worth and Tarrant County remain hesitant to getting the shot — especially Black and Latino residents, who have been among the most impacted by the coronavirus.

“We’ve got to convince Black and brown communities that this vaccine is not some conspiracy of the medical establishment,” Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks told the Fort Worth Report. “We’re asking everybody to take the vaccine. Black and brown people, white people, green people from Mars — if they live in this county, they should take the vaccine.”

‘Tale of two cities’

Black and Latino residents are not being inoculated at the same frequency as their white neighbors. So far, 508,951 Tarrant County residents have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 319,580 residents are fully vaccinated. 

A majority, 52%, of those who have been jabbed are white. Only 12% of vaccinated residents are Latino and 10% are Black, according to county data

Brooks wants to narrow that vaccination gap among Black and Latino residents.

“We’ve got to make the case that the vaccine is necessary, that there is no other good choice than to take the vaccine,” he said. “You either take the vaccine or you risk your own health — or the health of family members close to you. That’s the only way to knock out COVID.”

Dr. Patricia Rodriguez —  the chief medical officer of the North Texas Area Community Health Centers, a nonprofit organization operating three health centers — said Black and Latino residents have carried more of the burden of COVID-19 than white residents. 

She said those communities are more likely to have essential workers who had to go to their job to make a living, while white residents were able to work from home.

“It just becomes sort of this tale of two cities or tale of two populations,” Rodriguez said.

Of the more than reported 255,000 coronavirus cases here, 21% have been among Latinos and 8% were Black residents, according to local health data. White residents have been 22% of reported cases. Those numbers are likely off because 45% of people who have had the virus did not report their race and ethnicity to Tarrant County.

More than 2.1 million people — the majority of whom are people of color — call Tarrant County home.

Answering people’s vaccine questions

Brooks said the county has a partnership with the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth aimed at vaccinating all residents. 

The Health Science Center, he said, is responsible for forming a strategic plan at making that a reality and for reaching out to underserved communities.

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams, the chief strategy officer for the University of North Texas Health Science Center, talks to reporters on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, ahead of the opening of a new vaccine site inside an old H&M store in Ridgmar Mall in West Fort Worth. (Photo by Jacob Sanchez)

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams, the Health Science Center’s chief strategy officer, said her organization is opening vaccine sites in locations that are easier for people to access, such as the new location in an old H&M store at Ridgmar Mall in West Fort Worth. 

A former H&M store inside Ridgmar Mall in West Fort Worth has been converted into a COVID-19 vaccine site. Tarrant County and the University of Texas Health Science Center opened new site on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Sanchez)

The sites also act as a place for residents unsure about the vaccine to get the information they need, she said. Trent-Adams described the Health Science Center vaccine sites as safe places where residents are welcomed with open arms and get clear, honest and transparent answers to their questions.

“One of the things about vaccine hesitancy is that sometimes people don’t have a resource to go to to get their questions answered,” said Trent-Adams, who served as acting U.S. Surgeon General for several months in 2017. “We want to be here so that if individuals want to come in and ask questions or just to see the facility or get a sense of what’s going on, I think that will help to allay some of their concerns and anxieties.”

Medical mistrust

Trent-Adams, Rodriguez and Brooks said the hesitancy many Black residents feel about the COVID-19 vaccine is rooted in a historic mistrust of the medical community.

“We have to own the fact that we haven’t always had a medical system that has supported not only the Latinx community, but also the African American and Asian community,” the Health Science Center chief strategy officer said. “There’s a lot going on in society right now. People feel very fearful about just being out in public, let alone accessing a vaccine or health care.”

Brooks pointed to two historic examples of medical abuse that led to some of that mistrust: The federal government injecting syphilis into African American men and using cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks to study the effects of drugs and viruses without patients’ consent.

For the Health Science Center, Trent-Adams said, some people may not trust it because it is affiliated with a state-funded university and is an extension of the government.

In the Latino community, many are concerned about whether they can access the vaccine regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, Rodriguez said. Tarrant County has an estimated 114,000 people who are undocumented, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

“A lot of that is fear-provoking, and we know that we want to make it very clear that we are here to support the community, not asking for any identification as it relates to their status being in this country, but also making sure they understand we want to provide them with a safe and effective vaccine to protect their health,” Trent-Adams said. “It’s all about the community having what they need regardless of your race and ethnicity.”

Rodriguez suspects apathy is causing some Latinos to be reluctant toward the vaccine.

“But I will tell you that primarily the population that we serve at the Northside Community Health Center location is Latino, and we have droves of people coming in. They’re coming. It’s just been a little hard to access,” Rodriguez said, adding the people her organization serves trust it.

A line of people waits outside of the Northside Community Health Center in North Fort Worth on Saturday, April 17, 2021, to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Jacob Sanchez)

That was the scene Saturday morning. A line of masked people bundled up in sweaters and blankets snaked along the northwest side of the Northside Community Health Center to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Only 500 doses were available. 

“It means more freedom to be able to go out and get everything back to normal. I can’t wait,” Bryant, one of the people who waited Saturday for her shot, said. “Go ahead and get vaccinated so everything gets back to normal and you know you’re safe.”

Most North Texas Area Community Health Centers’ patients do not have the ability to sign themselves up for a vaccine online because they may not have internet access or own a device to get online, Rodriguez said. That creates another barrier to getting vaccinated, she said.

So the health centers started signing people up in person whenever they would visit. Once they do that, Rodriguez said, patients begin asking about signing up other family members.

‘We need to be patient’

Brooks is optimistic about getting enough Tarrant County residents inoculated to reach herd immunity. But, he said, it will take work to ensure Black and Latino communities get their doses. Officials have to meet people in their communities and make the vaccine easily accessible and readily available to them, the county commissioner said.

“We’ve got to make the shot available at churches, community centers, libraries, grocery stores — anywhere in those communities where people go so they can get a shot without having to go clear across town, take a bus or whatever,” Brooks said.

A billboard ad encouraging Tarrant County residents to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine is seen on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, along Interstate 30 in West Fort Worth. (Photo by Jacob Sanchez)

Although it will take time and plenty of education, Trent-Adams also has hope that residents will get their shots. She said the obstacles underserved and vulnerable communities face are not always understood by officials.

“We need to be patient with people to let them come along at their own pace and to continue to support them and educate them,” Trent-Adams said. “They may not get it today, but with enough information and enough support, they may come around in two weeks or a month, and we need to be there ready to give them the vaccine that they deserve.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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