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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is under fire after blaming Democrats for not doing more to increase COVID-19 vaccination among African Americans.
During an interview Thursday night on Fox News, Patrick was asked about the state of the pandemic in Texas, and he noted the virus is spreading mostly among the unvaccinated. In most states, he said, African Americans are the "biggest group" who are unvaccinated, and they are reliable Democratic voters. In Texas, the vaccination rate among Black people is low compared with other racial and ethnic groups, but in terms of raw numbers, the biggest group of the unvaccinated is white people.
"It's up to the Democrats, just as it’s up to the Republicans, to try to get as many people vaccinated, but we respect the fact that if people don’t want the vaccination, we’re not gonna force it on them," Patrick said. "That’s their individual right. But in terms of criticizing the Republicans for this, we’re encouraging people to take it, but they’re doing nothing for the African American community that has a significant high number of unvaccinated people, so they need to address that."
Patrick's comments sparked immediate outrage, including from a fellow Republican, Allen West, and from within the Senate that he oversees. Sen. Borris Miles, a Black Democrat from Houston, released a statement Friday morning saying that "for the second time in the past month, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has made prejudiced, inflammatory statements about African Americans and that is unacceptable."
Miles was among several Black politicians from Houston who got vaccinated at a news conference late last year, hoping to set an example for their communities.
Patrick issued a statement Friday afternoon responding to the uproar, saying, "Not surprisingly, Democrat social media trolls were up late misstating the facts and fanning the flames of their lies."
There are an estimated 5.6 million white people who are eligible and unvaccinated, while the same figure is 1.9 million for Black people, who make up a far smaller part of the overall population. The figure is 4.9 million for Hispanic people, whose population is now nearly as large as the non-Hispanic white population in Texas.
The full vaccination rate among Black people in Texas is 29%, lower than the rates for Asian, Hispanic and white Texans.
Texas has reported race and ethnicity data for about 82% of people who are fully vaccinated.
In Patrick's statement Friday afternoon, he said that data "clearly indicate that Black vaccination rates are significantly lower than White or Hispanic rates." However, his statement did not address the false claim that African Americans are the "biggest group" who are unvaccinated.
Also despite Patrick's claims, vaccine hesitancy is higher among Republicans than it is among Black people in Texas, according to a June poll from The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas at Austin. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans said they would not get a vaccine as soon as it is available to them, while 18% of Black people said the same.
Patrick's Democratic challenger for reelection, Mike Collier, also responded to the the Fox News interview, saying in a statement that Patrick is "blaming Black Texans for low vaccination rates to distract from his own failures."
West, the former Texas GOP chair who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott and who clashed with Patrick when West was at the state party, took aim at Patrick's remarks on Twitter.
He tweeted that Patrick's comments on Fox News were "disgusting, unconscionable, utterly disturbing, and highly insulting." West noted he is "an unvaccinated Black man in Texas."
"[Patrick] must immediately issue a statement of apology for his insidious comment," West said.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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