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Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, asked last week to defend the Texas response to surging coronavirus cases, blamed Democrats for the present COVID-19 wave, specifically African Americans, who he said are reliable Democratic voters.
"The COVID is spreading, particularly, most of the numbers are with the unvaccinated, and the Democrats like to blame Republicans on that," Patrick told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "Well the biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked over 90% of them vote for Democrats."
Backlash came from both sides of the aisle. Patrick’s liberal critics called his comments racist. Allen West, a Black Republican gubernatorial candidate and former head of Texas GOP, called the remark "unconscionable, utterly disturbing, and highly insulting," then acknowledged that he had not been vaccinated.
A day later, Patrick revised his statement by saying on Facebook that he was referring to vaccination rates, not the overall number of unvaccinated Black people.
"Not surprisingly, Democrat social media trolls were up late misstating the facts and fanning the flames of their lies," Patrick’s statement read. "Federal and State data clearly indicate that Black vaccination rates are significantly lower than White or Hispanic rates."
And in a statement to PolitiFact, Patrick’s spokesperson said that the lieutenant governor was "clearly discussing vaccination rates."
"Obviously, he knows that African Americans do not make up a majority of the population in Texas," spokesperson Steve Aranyi said. "According to CDC data and several other sources, when comparing vaccination rates in Texas and several other states, the African American community has the lowest rate of vaccination when compared to Latinos, whites, and Asians. The Texas and nationwide data is crystal clear."
When asked if Patrick might have misspoken, Aranyi said, "The lieutenant governor understands that some people might have heard it that way, but he believes his words were very clear. He was referring to vaccination rates."
There's a clear difference between what Patrick said on Fox News, that African Americans are the "biggest group" of unvaccinated people, and what he said in response to backlash, that Black populations have the lowest rates of vaccination. And the two statements land on opposite sides of the true-false spectrum.
Regardless of whether or not he was referring to vaccination rates, he did not seek to change his main point, that Black populations are playing a major role in fueling the present COVID-19 surge. But there’s no evidence to support that.
It’s also not the first time Patrick has targeted Texas’ Black population. In April, during debates over a provision of a Texas voting bill that eliminated drive-thru voting centers, Patrick argued that most people of color don’t own cars. PolitiFact rated that False.
Patrick said on Fox News that in "most states," Black people are the largest racial group of unvaccinated people. But that’s not the case in Texas or elsewhere.
In Texas, 44% of residents who are eligible for the vaccine are unvaccinated — about 10.7 million people. According to vaccination data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, white people make up the largest portion of this total. About 6.2 million white people are unvaccinated, or roughly 53% of the eligible unvaccinated Texans.
Hispanics make up the second-largest group with 4.7 million people, 44% of eligible unvaccinated Texans, followed by Blacks with 1.8 million people, about 17%, and Asians with 364,000 people, less than 4%.
The same is true for the nation at large as well. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57% of unvaccinated people in America are white, while 20% are Hispanic and 13% are Black.
Although neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the U.S. Census Bureau publishes data showing vaccination rates by race and ethnicity in individual states, we can look to states with sizable Black populations in search of any places where Black people might make up the largest unvaccinated group.
In Georgia, for instance, white people make up the largest racial group of unvaccinated, followed by Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians, according to state data and Census estimates. The same goes for Arkansas, where the number of unvaccinated white people almost doubles that of the state’s unvaccinated Black population.
After the online backlash, Patrick said he was referring to vaccination rates.
In Texas, 35% of Black people eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated. Rates for white and Hispanic populations both hover around 46% to 47%, and Asian populations are the most vaccinated at 70%, according to state data.
These rankings are the same in most states, according to Bloomberg’s weekly vaccine tracker, which compiles racial data from each state to analyze vaccination equity. The tracker shows that, in most states, Black, Hispanic and Latino populations are getting vaccinated at a lower rate than their share of the population, while the opposite is true for Asian and white populations.
The same is true from a nationwide perspective. According to CDC data, Asian people are the most fully vaccinated racial group in America followed by white people and Hispanic and Latino populations. Black populations are the least vaccinated group.
There’s no evidence that lagging vaccination rates in minority communities are a result of Democratic ideology. Rather, these results are due to differences in vaccine access among racial groups, although these disparities are shrinking as efforts are made to vaccinate these hard-to-reach communities, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report.
It’s also unreasonable to suggest that any one racial or ethnic group is responsible for the present COVID-19 surge fueled by the Delta variant, said Estelle Willie, director of health policy and communications at the Rockefeller Foundation. Texas’ Black residents make up just 13% of the state’s population, according to census data. And although vaccinations in the Black community lag behind other racial groups, Black residents make up just 15% of the state’s total present number of cases, state data shows.
According to Kaiser Foundation, the U.S.’s remaining population of unvaccinated people tend to be younger, less educated, and Republican. And among people who are the most opposed to vaccines, those who say they will "definitely not" get a vaccine, 65% of them are white.
In Texas, for instance, the counties with the 10 lowest percentages of fully vaccinated people, each under 30%, also lean heavily Republican, with at least 80% of the votes cast in those counties going to former President Donald Trump in the November election.
"Clearly the overwhelming vaccine hesitant group in the country tend to come from conservative groups," said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
"We’ve got to figure out a way to fix it, because the bar to vaccinate our way out of this epidemic is really high. We really need 80-85% of the country vaccinated. Not just the adults, but the entire country," Hotez said. "The partisanship is really hurting the country now."
Many Black communities were already experiencing health disparities before the pandemic struck, and the necessity for COVID-19 testing and vaccines have amplified those disparities in the COVID-era, said Maureen Johnson-León, a data equity specialist at the University of Texas Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.
"I think it's fair to say that many of the health disparities and racial disparities that existed before COVID-19 have been amplified by COVID-19 and access to vaccines, testing and other interventions," Johnson-León said.
Access to reliable transportation, affordable health care or a trusted doctor also are major barriers to vaccines, experts said.
"Why might someone not yet have been vaccinated? We can wonder if somebody doesn't have access to a car. Have they had equal access to a vaccine as another family with a car?" Johnson-León explained. "For any of these kinds of measures or categories, we can begin to frame the vaccine equity issue as, what can we do in a pandemic response to get vaccines to the communities that have been most vulnerable?"
State leaders also have limited local vaccination efforts in areas with high populations of people of color. State health officials threatened to withhold vaccine doses to Dallas County because a local plan was targeting vaccinations in ZIP Codes with predominantly Black and Latino residents. County officials scrapped the plan to keep vaccine allocation levels intact.
"What's been critical to our approach has been our ability to be hyper-focused on specific communities' needs, and listening and responding in ways that public health officials haven't been able to so far," said Aurora Harris, Southern Director for Young Invincibles, a group that works to overcome healthcare barriers in Houston’s communities of color. "We're filling in those gaps — that's the strategy."
In an attempt to blame vaccine hesitancy on Democrats, Patrick said on Fox News that the biggest group of unvaccinated people in most states is African Americans. He later clarified his statement, saying that he was referring to vaccination rates, not total populations.
His on-air statement is wrong. Black people aren’t the largest group of unvaccinated people in any state. But his revised statement, that vaccination rates among the Black population lag behind that of other racial groups, is correct.
Nonetheless, Patrick’s underlying claim — that Black communities are driving the current surge — is not supported by evidence.
We rate this claim False.
Fox News, 'Ingraham Angle' on elites putting Afghans before Americans, Aug. 19, 2021
Texas Department of State Health Services, COVID-19 vaccination in Texas, accessed Aug. 24, 2021
Kaiser Family Foundation, KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, accessed Aug. 24, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Demographic Characteristics of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States, accessed Aug. 24, 2021
Kaiser Family Foundation, Latest Data on COVID-19 Vaccinations by Race/Ethnicity, Aug. 18, 2021
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Tool Tracks Vaccination and Vaccine Hesitancy Rates Across Geographies, Population Groups, April 14, 2021
Interview with Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Aug. 24, 2021 Aug. 24, 2021
Emails with Steve Aranyi, spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Aug. 24, 2021
Emails with Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Aug. 23, 2021
Emails with Danyelle McNeill, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health, Aug. 24, 2021
Emails with Charles Gaba, ACAsignups.net, Aug. 24, 2021
2020 Census data, accessed Aug. 24, 2021
Interview with Maureen Johnson-León and Spencer Woody of the University of Texas Covid-19 Modeling Consortium, Aug. 25, 2021
Interview with Estelle Willie, director of health policy and communications at the Rockefeller Foundation, Aug. 25, 2021
Email with Aurora Harris, Southern Director for Young Invincibles, Aug. 25, 2021
Bloomberg Equality, U.S. Covid Hot Spots See Spike in Black, Hispanic Vaccinations: Covid-19 Tracker, updated Aug. 13, 2021
Texas Tribune, Dallas County axes plan to prioritize vaccinating communities of color after state threatens to slash allocation, Jan. 20, 2021
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