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Here's why some Fort Worth residents have had a hard time getting the COVID vaccine.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 9/7/2021 Mariana Rivas and Ciara McCarthy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Sep. 7—Jose Contreras knew he wanted the COVID-19 vaccine.

Before he was able to get the vaccine for polio, he contracted the disease as an infant, leaving him with no control over one of his legs. Moving around can be a challenge, just as it was when he was making an appointment for the COVID vaccine.

"The only problem that I had is I just can't walk," said Contreras, a 62-year-old resident of Fort Worth's Diamond Hill neighborhood.

He got his first dose in July. He said it took him a while to reserve a motorized shopping cart at a nearby Walmart, so he could be sure he could make his way to its pharmacy.

As the delta variant pushes COVID-19 hospitalizations close to all time pandemic highs, community leaders are desperate to find ways to increase the number of vaccinations in Fort Worth and throughout Texas.

In Tarrant County, state data shows 54.4% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, compared to the nationwide average of 61.3%, according to federal data. The scores of unvaccinated leave ample room for new variants of the virus to emerge and millions of people who are unprotected and vulnerable to becoming seriously ill or dying from the disease.

Although the largest number of unvaccinated people are white adults making up 57% of the group, Black and Hispanic people are less likely to be vaccinated than their white counterparts, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Multiple reasons

As the country suffers through the latest surge in cases, officials are urging people who haven't received the vaccine to take the shot. But public health experts say it's not as simple as telling adults to go to their local pharmacy.

Some unvaccinated people say they definitely don't want to get the shot, but many others are reachable and simply need more information about the vaccine. And still others, like Contreras, face logistical or circumstantial barriers accessing it.

Contreras, and other Fort Worth residents like him, illustrate what public health advocate Dr. Rhea Boyd describes as the difference between access and availability when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Access isn't just that something is available, or even near you," Boyd said. "It's that you actually have the opportunity to receive it without any negative consequences to you."

In March, the Biden administration committed to a goal of having COVID-19 vaccines accessible at a pharmacy within 5 miles of 90% of Americans' homes. But even that metric doesn't instantly translate into a vaccine that is easy to get, Boyd said.

"You could walk in if you live maybe less than half a mile away, and you were fully able-bodied," Boyd said. But for others, who like Contreras have mobility issues, or who live a long walk away from their local pharmacy, it's not as simple.

"It's not as easy as just walking up to a door sometimes," Boyd said.

The other costs

Although the COVID-19 vaccine is available for free, Boyd said, there can be other costs to pay while getting the vaccine.

"Just because the shot is free, doesn't mean you can afford the train ticket to get there, or the gas to get there, or the time off from work, where you'll have lost wages because you went," Boyd said.

Jamshid Anwari, 35, hasn't yet gotten the shot, he said, because it's been hard to find time between work and caring for his family. As a driver for a ride-sharing company, Anwari is technically an independent contractor, so he doesn't receive traditional employee benefits, like paid time off. He and his wife had no hesitations in deciding to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and said they would get their three children vaccinated once the vaccine was approved for kids under 12.

"I didn't get a chance to do it, but as soon as I get a chance I will do it," he said.

Anwari said he wanted to find time in his schedule where he didn't have to work for several days in case he gets side effects from the vaccine. Anwari and his wife will likely get the vaccine at JPS Health Network's clinic in Diamond Hill, where they are both patients. The clinic has distributed 12,238 COVID-19 vaccines as of Aug. 27.

The clinic is currently vaccinating about 150 new people in a week, said practice manager Barbara Odom. Most people entering the clinic doors for the first time to get vaccinated say word of mouth convinced them to visit.

"This community is so strong and everyone communicates; it's one of those things that they just do," Odom said.

The clinic serves as one of the community's only health care centers. There, underserved community members develop long-term relationships with family doctors and providers.

Access to providers

People that don't get medical care regularly are less likely to know where or how to get the vaccine and are less comfortable doing it, Boyd said.

"Folks who don't have insurance or don't have a regular health care provider, which Black and Latinx folks and low-income folks more disproportionately fall in those groups, they don't get that level of reassurance," Boyd said.

A 32 year-old undocumented Diamond Hill resident who didn't want to provide his name said he wanted to get the vaccine. He gets most of his information on COVID and the shot from Facebook, but he said he never bought into the misinformation.

Social media didn't tell him where or how to get the vaccine or that the vaccine is available to anyone living in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status.

Research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that among unvaccinated people who wanted to get the shot as soon as possible, 8% weren't sure that they had the right documentation or eligibility. Among those that would get vaccinated only if required, 4% cited the same concern.

The CDC said that COVID vaccines in the U.S. are available to anyone that wants one, regardless of their immigration status.

Undocumented immigrants often fear deportation and legal consequences, which can prevent them from seeking medical care. But officials said that the information gathered for vaccination would only be used for public health reasons, not for immigration enforcement.

For those who don't have a personal doctor, Boyd co-developed a campaign with the Kaiser Family Foundation to provide communities of color with credible information about the vaccine. In one video, Boyd explains that "if you're worried about your documentation status, it's important that you understand that you don't need to have any documentation of your immigration status to receive a vaccine." Videos are available in both Spanish and English.

Not a one-stop shop

Local clinics have made efforts to mitigate some of these circumstantial barriers to vaccination.

JPS clinics across Fort Worth, several of which are in undervaccinated neighborhoods like Diamond Hill and Stop Six, have an Uber Health service which drops off patients to get vaccinated and even grants them an additional stop.

But Boyd said a lot of success lies in bringing vaccines to communities, not expecting them to find the shot. She points to the effectiveness of efforts where health care professionals go door-to-door in public housing neighborhoods to distribute vaccines.

"The strategies to actually address the unvaccinated is not a one-stop shop," Boyd said. "And it's not just shouting, 'Get vaccinated!' As we've seen, that's incredibly ineffective."

For Contreras, the Diamond Hill resident who has no control over one of his legs because of polio, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was a simple choice. When Contreras was born, the polio vaccine had already made strides against decreasing the disease in the U.S., but polio wasn't completely eliminated until 1979.

"My mom and my dad, they didn't have no money, so they couldn't afford to get the shot for the polio, so at the age of six months I got it and now that I'm 62, and this thing came out, I said yeah, I better get it."

More information

If you haven't yet received a COVID-19 vaccine, you can find locations and more information at If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine or how to get it, reach out to or and the Star-Telegram will help you get answers.


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