For the last month, state Sen. Royce West has been working to secure more vaccine sites in underserved areas in Dallas. On Thursday, he did.
The federal government partnered with pharmacies to provide COVID-19 vaccines across the country, first to long-term care facilities, across the country. CVS, Walgreens and, in Texas, the health care company PharmScript are some of the pharmacies helping to get shots in arms.
But questions have arisen about how equitably the sites have been chosen across the state and in Dallas. On Wednesday, City Council member Adam Bazaldua posted on Twitter a handout from a local Walgreens that listed their locations that were administering the vaccine.
The only three Walgreens sites in Dallas listed were located in more affluent areas of the city at 18410 Preston Road, 6520 E. Northwest Highway and 18207 Midway Road.
"This is infuriating," Bazaldua wrote. "Covid vaccine distribution sites are as redlined as bank lending maps.
Inequitably placed in affluent areas only and NONE in brown and Black communities that data shows have been hit the hardest! Bring the vax to Southern Dallas locations Walgreens!"
But West's office said it secured another thousand doses for Walgreens locations in harder-hit areas and that more vendors will be approved in the coming weeks and months.
"It’s really important to note that as the vaccine rollout continues to the broader population, Walgreens is committed to reaching underserved and rural areas," Kris Lathan, a spokesperson for the pharmacy, said in an emailed statement to the Observer. "These are a critical component of what we need to do given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in these communities."
Lathan added that the state chose 74 of the company's locations and allocated doses at its discretion. The state sent 7,400 doses to these locations.
"With more than 70% of Walgreens testing sites currently located in areas the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has identified as socially vulnerable, we have worked to bring access to testing in underserved communities and will leverage these same capabilities to ensure all people have access to COVID vaccines, once supply is available," Lanthan said.
Kelvin Bass, legislative aide for West’s office, said initially there weren't many vendors capable of administering vaccines south of Interstate-35. This is what prompted officials to set up the mega center at Fair Park.
Bass said in most urban areas, you can’t drive five miles before passing by another Walgreens or CVS. “Knowing that, it’s kind of a head-scratcher why more locations were not available,” he said.
Lara M. Anton, a press officer with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the federal government determines how many vaccine doses will be sent to providers in the state on a weekly basis.
Each location of a chain pharmacy, like Walgreens, has to apply to be a vaccine provider. This is to make sure they can handle the storage and administration of the vaccine. DSHS began its enrollment process for these providers in October, but Anton said that many of them didn’t start the enrollment process until this last month.
DSHS has started working on outreach for the pharmacies whose applications are still in the pipeline, Bass said, but he stressed some of the criteria for how many of these sites are available is based on how many vaccine doses are available.
In the last seven weeks, DSHS has sent vaccines to two Walgreens locations in Dallas County. Anton said there are currently only six Walgreens locations in the county approved as providers.
Anton said that since week five of the vaccine distribution, a majority of the doses have been allocated for vaccination hubs, like the one in Fair Park, which are expected to target hardest-hit ZIP codes and demographics.