A DJ blaring pop music stood at the front of the Givens Recreation Center gym in East Austin on Sunday. Colorful tables with rainbow flags and other free goodies lined one wall of the room.
But three tables in the middle of the space had a different kind of freebie: COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccination clinic was made available through a partnership of Facebook Austin, Austin Public Health and Austin Black Pride, and the event featured a Pride celebration for LGBTQ community members, plus free testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
JP Cardenas, director of health and wellness for Austin Black Pride, said the event aimed to make vaccinations easily accessible for underserved communities in the area.
“We’ve seen that in the LGBTQ community there’s just automatically higher health disparities that we deal with, and there’s also a legacy of discrimination,” Cardenas said. “We wanted to be able to provide a safe space, a space that’s just ours, where they can come and be themselves and also just have people around who can teach them, educate them and support them through the whole process.”
Organizers aimed to administer 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine Sunday, part of a wider effort by Facebook to support nationwide vaccination efforts. By 3 p.m., nearly 60 people who had signed up to receive a vaccination had yet to show, a sign of declining demand for the vaccine in Central Texas and the rest of the country.
Jasmine Vallejo, a Facebook Austin spokeswoman, said the event is part of the tech giant’s global campaign to vaccinate 50 million people. Facebook also created a locator tool to help users find vaccination sites in their area.
Just six months before the pandemic hit, Facebook had more than 1,200 employees here and was on a hiring spree when it opened a second Austin location. Austin has grown to be Facebook’s fourth-largest hub, with more than 2,000 employees in more than 100 of its teams.
The company plans to continue to partner with groups in cities where Facebook has a presence.
“They know the communities best,” Vallejo said of local groups such as Austin Black Pride and Austin Public Health. “They know the folks that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, so how can Facebook come in to support their efforts?”
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The company distributed $30,000 to Austin Black Pride and the African American Youth Harvest Foundation to support multiple vaccination clinics.
Black and Hispanic Texans have faced disproportionately higher rates of death and severe illness from COVID-19, and as the vaccine began to be distributed, white Texans were vaccinated at significantly higher rates.
A May analysis from the American-Statesman found that COVID-19 shots for Latinos and other people of color have lagged in Travis County, more so than in many other parts of the state.
Jimmy Baker, Austin Public Health’s operations section chief of incident management, said the group is continuing to partner with Travis County to focus on specific ZIP codes with low vaccination rates.
Still, Travis County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, with nearly 60% of eligible residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and nearly 70% vaccinated with at least one dose. Americans 12 and older are eligible to receive the free COVID-19 vaccine.
But the rest of the state has a ways to go. More than 200 Texas counties remain below Texas health officials’ goal of 50% of residents vaccinated, an American-Statesman analysis found.
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Fifty percent remains far below health experts’ predictions for herd immunity, the point at which each infected person transmits the disease to an average of fewer than one other person, and the virus starts to die out. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has said the needed number could be as high as 85%.
COVID-19 infections have slowed across the state, but health experts warn that the disease could continue to spread unless local and state health officials find a way to inoculate more Texans.
“(We prioritized) these underserved populations because these are the folks that don’t have access,” Vallejo said. “So how do we continue to shine light on those marginalized communities?”
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