Harvard Street Health event takes up community concerns on Covid issues, pushes urgent need for more vaccinations

Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center and Prince Hall Grand Lodge hosted a town hall last Thursday, Sept. 30.  The forum, moderated by Harvard Street CEO Charles Murphy, included Boston Health and Hospitals Chief Marty Martinez, Dr. Alice Lin, HSNHC medical director, and state representatives Liz Malia,and Russell Holmes.  Vaccines are provided weekly at Harvard Street’s Mass Vaccine Site at Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m at 24 Washington St., Dorchester. Gail Jackson-Blount photo

A town hall put together by the Harvard Street Health Center on Sept. 30 was set up to address community concerns about Covid-19 vaccines and encourage people to get their shots.

The event at Prince Hall Grand Lodge was moderated by Charles Murphy, the center’s president and CEO, with panelists Marty Martinez, chief of Boston Health and Human Services, Dr. Alice Lin, the center’s medical director, and state lawmakers Liz Malia and Russell Holmes.

“Everybody at Harvard Street is proud to say that during the entire remote period, we never closed our doors,” Murphy said. “The Harvard Street leadership team built a Covid-response program to address the needs of this community, which is comprised of the most vulnerable who have severe underlying conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, and substance-use disorders. A strategy to address these challenges involved working with a large variety of organizations, such as the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, to reach these most vulnerable residents.”

Murphy reminded the crowd that the center continues to offer walk-up Covid-19 vaccinations and testing Monday through Friday at several locations in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, as well as its main location on Blue Hill Avenue. It also operates mobile vaccinations. He said that as of Sept. 30, the center had vaccinated more than 13,000 people. 

For his part, Martinez pointed out that at least 72 percent of Bostonians have had at least one shot, that 65 percent are fully vaccinated, and that 93 percent of seniors are fully vaccinated.

Still, he stressed, more work remained to be done. “There’s inequities that Covid shined a light on,” he said. “That includes access to care and access to vaccines. It is still the case that Black American and Latinx populations are less vaccinated than the white community here in the city of Boston.”

He added: “Here in our neighborhood, only about 50 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. We have to continue to do more, not only to give the right information so that people can make the best decision for them and their families, but to create true access to the vaccine.”

Martinez cited the mobile vaccinations and partnership between Harvard Street Health and the Black Boston Covid-19 Coalition as positive steps while emphasizing that they are not enough.

“We have to continue to talk to each other, talk to our neighbors, to ensure that we’re creating opportunities and that folks can get what they need in order to be able to protect themselves,” he said. “Vaccines are our way out of Covid. The least vaccinated population in our community is young people. We have to make sure that school-aged young people [who are eligible] get vaccinated. Only about 55 percent of 12-to-15-year-olds are fully vaccinated. If you have students in school, please get them vaccinated. It’s a really important measure to make sure that we can stay in school.”

Dr. Lin emphasized the safety and efficacy of vaccines. “We have close to 700,000 Americans dead of Covid, and that’s something we can prevent,” she said. “Vaccinated people are less likely to be infected, hospitalized, or have severe outcomes.”

Rep. Malia followed her, saying that she has started to feel somewhat like a turtle these days. “We get more people vaccinated, statistics start to improve, we all start coming out of our shells a little bit, and then all of a sudden there’s more bad news, and you find out a friend or family member that’s been infected, and you withdraw,” she said. “I haven’t been out in my community because I’m older and I have some health risks. I think about the mental health aspects of the pandemic in terms of how it has really impacted people’s ability to relate to each other and get help.”

Rep. Holmes spoke to the mistrust of the medical community among nonwhite and immigrant communities. “We can still be enthusiastic that the city of Boston is vaccinated at a high rate, but none of that matters until you think about the community you’re standing in,” he said.

“When we think about the Haitian community, the immigrant community,” he said, “we must be passionate about making sure we’re translating things into Cape Verdean Creole [and] Haitian Creole. We must recognize the lack of trust in some communities. We need to get in there and have real conversations.”

He also addressed learning loss among students, pointing to immaturity, mental health crises, and substance abuse as pressing corollary effects of the pandemic.

“We have to take this very seriously in all aspects, because these things are real. When we look at the money that’s coming in from the Recovery Act, we need to spend that money immediately to get into these issues,” Holmes said.

“The need is tremendous, and we need to treat it like the urgent emergency that it is. There are many neighborhoods that have done perfectly fine in this crisis, that are happy not getting on the commuter rail and coming downtown, that have not had their salaries impacted at all during this crisis. That is not our neighborhood.”

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