Following months of efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine access, a partnership between Tarrant County and the University of North Texas Health Science Center will conclude at the end of the month.
The partnership, first announced in February, tasked UNTHSC with strategically advising the county on vaccination efforts, including site planning and outreach. The university oversaw the operation of vaccine sites that were opened in historically underserved areas of Tarrant County in the past few months.
“People are not coming to the big locations and I think we needed to look at it from a different direction, and I believe they [UNTHSC] feel that we weren’t making the best use of taxpayer dollars,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said. “I think what we found is this is a very difficult population to reach, and I think we need to try to still make an effort to reach them.”
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As written, the contract could have run through September, but Whitley said it had always been subject to 30-day notice to end sooner. The letter from the HSC to the county said there were currently “many avenues for Tarrant County residents to receive the vaccine," and agreed with the county that “this is the natural wind-down of some of capacity building efforts under the COVID-19 vaccine contract between HSC and Tarrant County."
An HSC spokesperson issued the following statement Tuesday.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, HSC has proudly partnered with Tarrant County on activities such as operating COVID-19 test sites for first responders, contact tracing, educating, and informing the public and, most recently, managing a vaccination program that expanded vaccine access in historically underserved and hard-to-reach communities. While HSC and Tarrant County agree that the timing is right to wind down the vaccination partnership, HSC remains committed to improving the health and well-being of our community and looks forward to continued partnerships with Tarrant County.”
As of Tuesday, 33% of Tarrant County residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 29% were fully vaccinated. At a commissioner's court briefing Tuesday, Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks expressed his concern over current vaccination rates in response to the partnership coming to an end.
“Vinny [Taneja] mentioned 76105, that’s one of those zip codes in which only 8% of the population is vaccinated,” Brooks said. “We have not been effective in reaching out to serve the underserved. I’m tremendously disappointed.”
Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, said Tuesday the county was prepared to move forward with outreach efforts.
“We have been hiring some staffing, so that helps. And of course, we have had a lot of help from city partners,” Taneja said. “If you look at our social media now, there are campaigns launching about 'take back your summer' because a lot of people want to have a cookout, you know? Fourth of July just went by. A lot of people want to travel.”
Taneja noted an increasing trend of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Tarrant County over the last three weeks. He said almost all of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated.
“In terms of numbers, we had 90 people in the hospital. We’re at about 174 in the hospital, and we’re starting to see community outbreaks in different pockets,” he said.
To date, more than 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in Tarrant County.