EL PASO, Texas -- South El Paso residents may get a knock on their door from Beto O’Rourke on Saturday.
The former El Paso congressman is one of dozens of volunteers who were canvasing the city’s 79901 Zip code to register residents for the Covid-19 vaccine. Volunteers in north Texas were doing the same in Dallas.
The events are the latest effort by O’Rourke’s Powered by People organization to get Texans engaged in their community, from registering voters to volunteering at food banks.
Its latest initiative aims to “to make sure to whatever degree we can be helpful, there’s real equity and fairness in how people learn about and are able to receive the vaccines in El Paso,” O’Rourke said.
He’s hoping volunteers can connect with as many people age 65 and older about how to sign up for a vaccine in El Paso and even help those without a smartphone, computer or internet get on a waiting list.
“One of the challenges that I see in Texas is a very confusing rollout of the vaccine, on top of (being) one of the hardest-hit states in the country,” O’Rourke said. Border counties like El Paso have been some of the hardest hit in the state, with death tolls rivaling larger counties like Dallas and Harris.
“I want to make sure that our communities have a fair shot at getting vaccines, and then within our communities, those who are very often the last to receive resources or outreach, that we’re doing everything we can to make sure they get on the list and get a vaccine,” O’Rourke said.
El Paso’s 79901 Zip code, home to parts of the Downtown, Chihuahuita and Segundo Barrio neighborhoods, had the fourth-highest infection rate per 1,000 people out of the county’s 26 ZIP codes as of Jan. 31, according to an El Paso Matters analysis. It has the lowest per-capita income of any El Paso ZIP code, just under $15,000 a year.
Even as El Paso outpaces the rest of the state in terms of the percentage of the population who has been vaccinated, the lack of a centralized sign up list and reliance on online waiting lists has made it a challenge for everyone to sign up for a vaccine, particularly older, low-income and Spanish-speaking populations.
The state’s limited demographic data on vaccine recipients shows that statewide and in El Paso, the share of vaccines among Latinos is lower than their share of Covid-19 cases and deaths as well as their share of the population.
President Joe Biden and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott must prioritize equity in the vaccine rollout, O’Rourke said, adding he’s hopeful the Biden administration will “streamline and centralize the decision-making and the rollout and provide much greater clarity and transparency and accountability.”
Saturday’s volunteers will follow up with those they meet to ensure they are able to get their first and second dose of the vaccine and to connect them with transportation to the vaccination sites.
Powered by People plans to have future vaccine registration events in other El Paso neighborhoods and other Texas cities.