Debate continues over equity in vaccine access
As the state prepares to move the Fenway Park mass vaccination site to the Hynes Convention Center later this month, the other Boston mass inoculation site is preparing to roughly double the number of shots it gives each day.
The CIC Health-run vaccination clinic at Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Center has so far administered 13,500 vaccine doses with more than half of them going to people of color. It will soon double its number of daily vaccinations to more than 2,100 shots per day, CIC Health co-founder Dr. Atul Gawande said.
Gawande, a physician practicing endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Boston who advised President Joe Biden’s transition team on Covid-19 matters, said the Lewis Center site has partnered with the city of Boston and community groups to ensure some of the most vulnerable populations have access to the vaccine.
“At the Reggie, in particular, we’re proving that delivering at large size and high efficiency is not a trade-off with achieving equity; it is part of doing it,” Gawande said.
After touring the vaccination site, Gov. Baker noted that Massachusetts is number 3 among the 25 states with at least 5 million residents in terms of getting Black residents vaccinated and touted the efforts of the center’s partnerships.
“This location provides a unique opportunity to do targeted outreach to surrounding neighborhoods, which include communities that have been hit hardest by Covid, and half of all the new vaccination appointments that are released each Thursday are reserved here for local residents to ensure that they have access to vaccinations,” Baker said.
He added, “We’re continuing to make progress in reaching communities of color to increase awareness of and access to the vaccine. And places like this, which vaccinates among the highest proportion of Black and Hispanic individuals among our mass vaccination sites, is a great example of that.”
Gawande attributed the site’s ability to identify and vaccinate eligible people from vulnerable communities to its partnerships with more than two dozen community organizations, weekly town hall meetings, and language translation services.
“We reserve half of all new vaccine appointments at the Reggie for priority booking of local residents by CIC Health’s community partners at the Boston Public Health Commission and by community health centers that can book directly into our schedule. And we’ve mobilized a canvassing program in Roxbury and surrounding neighborhoods to disseminate printed informational materials,” he said.
“We initiated a door-to-door neighborhood campaign in Roxbury and the surrounding neighborhoods,” he noted, “to identify eligible local residents interested in vaccinations, where we provide phone bank outreach to book their appointments. All we need is their name, a phone number, and their language.”
Baker said the site is expected to have more than 2,100 appointments available on weekdays and about 1,700 appointments available on weekends.
The other mass vaccination site in Boston, at Fenway Park, is scheduled to take its last patient on March 27, but a new mass site at the Hynes Convention Center is opening on March 18.
The Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition, which is made up of 11 civil rights, social justice, and medical organizations, said last Thursday that it was pleased to hear about the state’s efforts to make the vaccine more accessible to people who live near the Lewis Center, but said the state’s own data makes clear that “the Baker Administration is simply not getting the job done.”
“The most recent state data shows that White residents have received 15 times the number of vaccine doses as Latinx residents and 13 times more than Black residents – after a year in which Latinx and Black residents have suffered and died at rates far higher than White residents,” the coalition’s co-leaders, Dr. Atyia Martin of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, Eva Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and Carlene Pavlos of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said in a joint statement.
“These numbers have not budged in the last three weeks. Given these numbers, our state’s strategy must change, and it must change now.”
As of March 2, there were 894,697 white residents of Massachusetts who had received at least the first doses of a vaccine and 394,652 white residents who had received two doses, the Department of Public Health reported last week. There were 64,237 Black residents with at least one shot and 31,313 Black residents who had received two shots. There were also 56,661 Hispanic residents who had received at least one shot and 24,024 Hispanic residents had gotten two doses of a vaccine.
DPH was due to update those figures on March 11, but the agency did not publish its weekly vaccination report by the deadline it set for itself.
White residents accounted for 69.8 percent of the people who had received at least one dose, while Black residents made up 5 percent of that total and Hispanic residents accounted for 4.4 percent of the total. Of people who had received two doses, 67.2 percent were white, 5.3 percent were Black, and 4.1 percent were Hispanic, DPH reported.
The population of Massachusetts in 2019 was 71.1 percent white, 12.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, 9 percent Black or African American, and 7.2 percent Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The coalition called on Baker on March 11 to adopt five demands it made weeks ago, including to track vaccine benchmarks that mirror the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on Black and Latinx residents, to improve language access and cultural competence across the administration, and allocate an additional 20 percent of vaccines to communities most impacted by the pandemic, which the group described as a promise Baker made in December.
As he’s done at most every press conference since vaccines became available, Baker again cautioned last Thursday that the limited supply of vaccine doses coming from the federal government prevents Massachusetts from vaccinating at the rate its systems could be operating at with unlimited supply. He said the state already has the capacity to vaccinate two or three times more people each day.