McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A “disproportionately” high number of COVID-19 deaths and cases among Hispanics, particularly those on the Southwest border, should ensure that they are prioritized to receive the first coronavirus vaccines, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is spearheading health response efforts for the Trump administration.
During an online meeting Wednesday with caucus members, Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that there is a “disparity, both in incidents and prevalence of infection, as well as severe consequences when one does get infected” among minority communities, particularly Hispanic communities. He was also joined on the hour-long call by other nationally renowned physicians.
Fauci said that as of Sept. 19, the number of hospitalizations from coronavirus per 100,000 people was 359 among Hispanics, compared to 78 “for whites.” And deaths from COVID-19 resulted in 61 out of 100,000 cases for Hispanics and 40 for Anglos, he said.
“This must reset and re-shine a light on this disproportionate disparity of health by Latinx communities,” Fauci said. “Clearly we have an extra problem, one that we can begin to address now by making sure that the resources regarding testing and immediate access to care are focused on distribution of resources to Latinx communities.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, reiterated the numbers in more staggering terms. “I’m calling this historic decimation of the Latinx population in the Southern United States,” Hotez told the caucus.
Currently, Hotez said, 55% of all COVID-19 related deaths in Texas and California are among Hispanics. He also said that 35% of Hispanics who die from the novel virus are young adults.
“It’s hard to get attention to this. It’s hard to get this on peoples’ radar screens and we really have to push for it,” Hotez said.
To that, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, responded: “That is a startling statement and we have to shout it from the rooftops.”
COVID has made clear that while we are all facing the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.”U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California
“The pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Latinos and low-wage workers,” said U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from California. “COVID has made clear that while we are all facing the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.”
Caucus Chairman U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who represents San Antonio, said his step-mother died of COVID-19 in July. And he asked Fauci “what assurances will we not have a situation with the vaccine where the wealthiest Americans get it first, and Latinos and communities of color have to wait much longer?”
Fauci said the decision for distribution ultimately will fall to CDC officials, but his advisory committee will also weigh in and he said he would rally for border representation to leaders in Washington. Currently, vaccine distribution first will go to: the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, then essential workers, “and then everybody else,” he said.
Dr. Robert Rodriguez, professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said he is proposing a national emergency-based vaccine program that would distribute the vaccine in hospital ER’s, where many minorities get their primary health care.
He said he came to South Texas this summer to help treat COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Brownsville and was overwhelmed with the number of critical cases and lack of physicians.
“We were running all day from code to code to code,” Rodriguez said. “I could not provide the care we would normally be able to provide to such critically ill patients.”
Brownsville is in Cameron County, which has had 22,825 cases and 935 coronavirus deaths. The Gulf Coast county, with a population of 460,000, reported nine fatalities on Tuesday and 44 new cases.
Neighboring Hidalgo County has had the second-most deaths in Texas, with 1,681, including 20 on Tuesday, county officials reported. The county has had a total of 31,835 cases and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents this region, said he worries about the lack of resources and physicians in case of a second-wave of infections.
“We have fatalities three times the rate of the rest of the state,” Gonzalez told Fauci. “The cliché is ‘because you’re brown, poor and have these underlying conditions,’ but I clearly believe it’s a lack of resources.”
Rodriguez said he is proposing that the White House and national health leaders assemble a strike force of physicians who are licensed, insured and able to quickly respond to hotspots, like South Texas, should a second wave of infections hit this fall, as expected. And he asked for Fauci’s support in this proposal.
Escobar said she wants a binational COVID-19 strategy to be developed with Mexico that would particularly help border communities. She along with three other Democratic border lawmakers from Texas — Gonzalez and U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela and Henry Cuellar — in July sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging that such diplomatic talks with Mexico begin to develop such a plan.
“We have a saying in El Paso that ‘when Ciudad Juarez sneezes, El Paso catches a cold,’ and nothing can be more true in the era of COVID. So can the task force come up with a binational strategy so we can continue to keep our borders open?” Escobar said.
Fauci responded that he would take the suggestion back to members on Operation Warp Speed, which is overseeing the development and testing of 300 million doses of coronavirus vaccine. Fauci said the first of those doses should be available next month, and hundreds of millions more ready by January through April of 2021.
Gonzalez asked if Mexico was working with Russia to buy from them 39 million vaccine doses. The Mexico News Daily has reported that the doses will be distributed to Mexico in November.
Hotez confirmed the deal between the two countries saying it occurred when President Donald Trump extracted the United States from the World Health Organization. “The U.S. has abdicated its leadership of global health,” Hotez said. “So Latin American countries are cutting one-off deals with Russia and the Chinese.”
Hotez said it is unclear how safe or well tested any vaccines produced from Russia will be.
The United States currently has several vaccine trials that are in the final human-testing phases, including a vaccine being developed by Moderna Inc., which is being tested in Laredo and McAllen.
And UC San Diego is testing a COVID-19 vaccination trial in San Diego in conjunction with Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a British pharmaceutical company. Moderna also is testing its vaccine in San Diego.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.