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Travis County among US counties most at-risk for vaccine shortages, study says

(Bob Daemmrich)

Travis County is the ninth most at-risk county in the nation for severe vaccine deficits and the second most at-risk in the state, according to a study by data science company Cogitativo.


The report, titled No Relief in Sight: The Growing Crisis of Vaccine Shortages in U.S. Counties, was conducted to see if vaccine allocation is being done most effectively with the CDC's current methods. Cogitativo used a simulation of vaccine allocation in the 10 most populous states, assuming there was a supply of 100 million doses, and compared allocation strategies by counties recommended by the CDC to their own strategy.

The CDC's Advisory on Immunization Practices recommends using priority populations that are predetermined (such as those who meet 1A and 1B qualifications in Travis County) and the Social Vulnerability Index to figure out who gets vaccinated first. Cogitativo, however, simulated a model using county clinical data, social determinants of health and peer-reviewed COVID-19 medical research.

The difference between the two is outstanding.

In the controlled setting of the simulation, the CDC's methods caused a shortage of up to 4.9 million doses nationally. Almost 640,000 lives would be saved using the Cogitativo methods, according to the simulation, and another 4.4 million hospitalizations could be prevented.

When the CDC method is used, 34% of counties, including Travis County, see a vaccine shortage. Travis County would have administered 106,678 fewer doses with the CDC's approach. Harris County leads Texas for most deficit doses.

Because Cogitativo uses clinical data to determine priority groups, the data company's CEO Gary Velasquez said in a statement that the shortage impacts vulnerable populations not getting the vaccine access they need.

"The data is clear: Without a more precise approach to allocating the vaccine, many of the most vulnerable—often in communities of color and rural areas—will be overlooked," Velasquez said. "To meet the most complex public health challenge of our time, states must use the most powerful, precise tools available so that every resident, whether they live in a city or in a rural community, has equal access to the vaccine."

To former Chief Medical Officer of Blue Shield of California Dr. Meredith Matthews, the study can be used to make sure those in disadvantaged locations never have to go without the vaccine.

"Access to the COVID-19 vaccine should not depend on where you live," Matthews said. "Using science and data can help states ensure that everyone has access, and that no community is left behind."

Austin officials concerned about inequities in distribution have advocated for changes to the local vaccine rollout, including pop-up distribution events at community centers, such as fire stations and schools, for the Black and Hispanic population most hit by the virus. Additionally, APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard has previously said that she has concerns that the city's Black and Hispanic populations were being underserved when compared to their community size.

"We remain deeply concerned that vaccine distribution is not reaching individuals who identify as Hispanic or African American, especially given the pandemic's disproportionate impact to these communities," Hayden-Howard said. "We must expand current efforts to provide vaccines to more members of our Hispanic and African American communities, especially in areas where disease transmission is high."

According to Austin Public Health's vaccine distribution dashboard, 31.7% who've received a dose were 60 or older; 7.6% of those vaccinated were Black, 18.1% were Hispanic of any race, 5.1% were Asian and 68.2% were White.

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