There is a plan in the works in Tarrant County to prioritize vaccinating people in areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials say.
At a meeting of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court Tuesday, Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja presented the 10 ZIP codes with the highest case rate of COVID-19 over the past 30 days: 71677, 76131, 76179, 76040, 76054, 76164, 76182, 76118, 76180, 76060.
“Those are the areas that, if you all agree with us, we would like to focus on some resources. I’m not saying stop vaccinating others but take a percentage, maybe half. Do half a day, focus on people from these ZIP codes,” Taneja told commissioners Tuesday. “Then the rest of the day, the rest of the county as they are registered.”
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Leah King, president and CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County, described the plan as strategic.
“When I see the ZIP codes, there was nothing surprising to me about them,” King said.
Not only do those ZIP codes represent high case rates, but King also said some of them are areas that have been typically under-served.
“What you see is in these particular areas, there were already issues long before the pandemic hit. Lots of disparities and lots of gaps in services,” she explained. “What my hope is, is that we have had an eye-opening experience for many of us in the community that need to do a better job of bringing resources, bringing attention and awareness but fixing these systems that have continued to keep these communities separated.”
Taneja said Tuesday, the plan may draw some criticism.
“I want to be very clear,” he told commissioners. “When you start prioritizing these people in the ZIP codes, you’re going to have some unhappy folks saying, ‘I registered first and I work with a friend and they live here. They got in faster than me.’ The answer is, they’re probably in that priority ZIP code.”
However, he added the plan falls in line with guidance from the Texas Department of State Health Services in terms of addressing ‘priority ZIP codes’ first.
“We’re just having a huge outbreak in our community. This is one sure-shot way that if people are registered from those ZIP codes and they are qualified otherwise, we just bring them up to the front of the line,” Taneja told reporters. “Otherwise, they are at a higher risk because they’re living in areas where there’s a high risk of the outbreak.”
Dallas County Health and Human Services, which announced a similar plan to prioritize vaccinations based on ZIP code on Tuesday was told by the state health department Wednesday that if they follow through with that plan they will no longer be sent COVID-19 vaccines because doing so violates the terms of the agreement to vaccinate all eligible people regardless of where they live.
NBC 5 reached out to Tarrant County Public Health asking when this plan will start and whether the county has received a similar warning from the state health department.
Taneja confirmed Wednesday they have not received a letter, but they are checking with DSHS to verify their plans.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said his office has not received a letter or warning.