Disparities glaring in vaccines given to 75 and older

Health Department adds 70 and older to vaccine priority

By , Daily Memphian Updated: February 04, 2021 4:57 PM CT | Published: February 04, 2021 12:45 PM CT

When the pandemic hit, Latino people in Shelby County were not only disproportionately affected, they were also getting tested in far fewer percentages than other ethnic and racial groups.

In early data of vaccination rates among people 75 and over, so few Latino people have been vaccinated their percentage of the whole is 0.4%.

And the Shelby County Health Department announced Thursday afternoon, Feb. 4, it is now administering shots to people age 70 and above. 

Vaccination advances with second doses at Pipkin, first doses continue at other locations

According to U.S. Census data, Latinos make up 6% of the population in Shelby County, but the real number is believed to be as high as 10%.

“So, as you can see, there’s some work we have to do,” Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Department’s medical officer, said Thursday.

The Health Department is working with the Mexican Consulate, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, to decrease the disparity among Latino people. Thursday, the head of the consulate, Rodolfo Quilantan Arenas, was in Memphis.

“This an issue that requires government, nonprofits and the people themselves to work together,” said Mauricio Calvo, head of Latino Memphis.

“If we as nonprofits don’t bring up the issues, government can’t really address them. People need to know if they can sign up online for the vaccine in Spanish,” Calvo said. “They wonder if there a Spanish hotline. And they need to know if they have a reaction to the shot, can they take time off from work.

“These are people who work hourly wages. They need to know this,” Calvo said. “These are not questions unique to Hispanics or immigrants. People have religious, legal and health concerns. We cannot act like one size fits all. We have to craft messages to the specific communities.”

While Calvo is disappointed in the vaccination data, he also says the Latino community in Memphis is relatively young, although he does not want to make excuses and find later that the problem persisted.

“We didn’t fully learn the lesson in the testing phase,” Calvo said. “We don’t want to wait a year for the vaccine to be in the arms.”

On Feb. 1, Homeland Security issued a directive supporting equal access to people who are undocumented immigrants, saying it is “a moral and public health imperative” that all people residing in the U.S. have access to the vaccine. The data is a wake-up call to the Shelby County Health Department, charged with equitably distributing the vaccine.

The vaccination data released so far has included everyone in categories 1a1 and 1a2, which are largely health care workers, first responders, people who work in the funeral industry and those 75 and older.

It shows that white people are being vaccinated here at twice the rate of African-American people, for instance, and when broken down to shots given per 100,000 people, Germantown and Arlington had the higher rates of vaccination. Memphis and Bartlett had the lowest.

That data could be biased based on the professions vaccinated. 

Of the 13,461 vaccinations given to people 75 and older by the Health Department, 1,564 or 11.9% of the doses were given to Black people; 6,576 doses, 50%, went to white people.

Another 2,199, or 16.7% of doses, went to seniors who characterized themselves as other or multi-racial. Slightly more than that, 2,822 or 21.4%, were given to people who did not indicate a race.

In Memphis, the vaccination rate of the same age group is 1,058 per 100,000 people. Germantown and Arlington still dominate with vaccination saturation, even among 75 and older. In Germantown, 5,450 seniors per 100,000 have received at least one dose. In Arlington, it’s 3,168.

Frayser could get permanent COVID vaccine site later this month

This week, four safety-net clinics began offering the vaccine, including Christ Community Health Services. It received 700 doses to be divided between seven clinics, said CEO Shantelle Leatherwood.

“In our database, we have 1,600 patients who are 75 and over,” Leatherwood said.

The doses arrived on Tuesday morning; staff were making calls that afternoon for appointments. Christ Community in Raleigh began administering shots Thursday afternoon.

What is not clear is how steady the flow of vaccine will be, Leatherwood said.

“We have been told we can continue to request vaccines from the state in quantities of 100 doses at a time. The state has encouraged us to request as much as we need,” she said.

Christ Community has more than 3,000 patients ages 70-75. When the priority shifts to 65 with pre-existing conditions, the number mushrooms into tens of thousands.

“We’ll be asking for additional vaccine,” Leatherwood said.

Walmart begins vaccinations this week. The Southwest Tennessee Community College Whitehaven Center site opens Friday, Feb. 5. Appointments for future openings can be made through Shelby.community.

Vaccination advances with second doses at Pipkin, first doses continue at other locations

The Health Department is working with local hospitals to expand access to the vaccine, which for now means the Health Department would need to give the hospitals more of its vaccine allocation.

For weeks, people who do not have internet access or limited computer skills have struggled to get through on the 222-SHOT (7468) phone line. Thursday, Haushalter said the Health Department is adding additional lines.

It is also adding up to 75 employees to help with giving vaccines, data entry and answering SHOT phone lines.

FEMA also has a team of 26 people in Memphis. One of the key things they are doing is helping with data entry, including keeping up with shots given against the weekly allocation.

The Health Department used the standby list created by VaxQueue  on Wednesday to fill lags in the line at the Pipkin Building.

Shelby County will soon join other counties using a Microsoft-based signup program, instead of SignUpGenius. The new program will allow people to make first- and second-shot appointments simultaneously.


coronavirus Mauricio Calvo Shantelle Leatherwood Christ Community Health Service
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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