The race and ethnicity of 90.6% of the people inoculated in El Paso County is unknown to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state agency tasked with distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
The lack of clear data makes it impossible to determine whether the lifesaving vaccine is being distributed to the most vulnerable members of the community.
Of the approximately 70,500 people El Paso providers vaccinated with at least one dose as of Wednesday, race and ethnicity was known for only 6,611 of them, according to DSHS’s data dashboard. Of those, 50.2% were Hispanic, 22.5% were white, 1.9% were Asian and 1.3% were Black. Another 23.8% were reported as “other.”
El Paso County’s population is 82.9% Hispanic, 11.6% white, 4% Black and 1.4% Asian, according to 2019 Census Bureau data. Hispanics have accounted for almost 90% of COVID-19 cases and deaths in El Paso.
On Thursday, DSHS said it will require vaccine providers to report race and ethnicity data.
“The data just hasn’t been submitted to our immunization registry, and so whether the providers are collecting it on the ground and just not entering it is unknown,” Imelda Garcia, an associate DSHS commissioner and chair of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said during a press briefing.
El Paso providers aren’t the only ones not recording this data. Of the 1.68 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Texas, race and ethnicity data is unknown for about 45% of them.
But among Texas’ 10 largest counties, El Paso has the largest rate of unknown race and ethnicity data reported for its vaccine recipients. The county with the next largest unknown rate is Hidalgo, home to McAllen, which lacked this data for nearly 51% of recipients.
Texas has been vaccinating people for seven weeks. During the past three weeks, it has prioritized a hub model, sending the bulk of its doses to large-scale vaccine providers. In El Paso, these are the city fire department and the University Medical Center of El Paso.
Garcia said it’s “imperative that there be an equitable distribution throughout demographics” by the hubs.
City spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta has not responded to questions about the lack of race and ethnicity data.
UMC spokesperson Ryan Mielke said the county hospital did “not actively track” this data because it wasn’t a state requirement. “We do, however, track other demographic indicators of our vaccination recipients, such as age, gender and home address,” he said in an email.
Prior to Thursday, DSHS officials had “repeatedly stressed to providers how important it is to provide complete demographic data and will continue to do so,” Douglas Loveday, an agency press officer, said.
Demographic data is needed to understand who has been able to access the vaccine, said Samantha Artiga, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s racial equity and health policy program. Such data is “an important component for understanding where there may be gaps or barriers to vaccinations and targeting resources to help address those barriers or gaps as they’re identified,” she said.
A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of 17 states that report race and ethnicity data for vaccine recipients, including Texas, found that the share of vaccines among Black and Hispanic people is lower than their share of COVID-19 cases and deaths and their share of the state population.
Of the recipients whose demographic data Texas providers recorded, 51.2% were white, 16% were Hispanic, 15.9% were “other,” 9.5% were Asian and 7.3% were Black, according to the DSHS dashboard.
Texas’ population is about 42% white, 40% Hispanic, 13% Black and 5% Asian, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates.
Cover photo: A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine at University Medical Center’s vaccination hub at the El Paso County Coliseum. (Photo courtesy of University Medical Center)