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Citing plight of Black and brown communities, Pressley urges Baker to emphasize equity in vaccine distribution

Representative Ayanna Pressley has been critical of the rollout of the state's vaccination program.
Representative Ayanna Pressley has been critical of the rollout of the state's vaccination program.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

US Representative Ayanna Pressley is calling on Governor Charlie Baker to prioritize communities of color as the state ramps up its vaccine distribution efforts.

In a letter to Baker dated Tuesday, Pressley wrote that she was alarmed by data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Public Health that ranked Massachusetts 29th in vaccine deployment, and showed that Black and Latino residents made up just 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of those who have been vaccinated so far.

“I write to implore you to act with urgency and put the health and safety of our Black and brown communities at the center of the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response and ongoing vaccination deployment plans,” she wrote in the letter, a copy of which was shared with the Globe.

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The letter comes as Massachusetts opens Phase 2 of its vaccination plan, which allows anyone 75 and older to begin receiving shots as of Feb. 1. But the Globe reported on Sunday that in Suffolk County, which includes much of Pressley’s district, Black and Latino residents so far face stark disparities in vaccine access: Fewer than 14 percent of Black residents and roughly 26 percent of Latinos live in census tracts within one mile of a vaccination site, compared with nearly 46 percent of white residents.

A spokeswoman for Baker on Wednesday said that the state has already embraced many recommendations for increasing equity, including “working with community health centers and developing a public messaging campaign.”

The spokeswoman, Sarah Finlaw, added that the state’s COVID Vaccine Advisory Group “has prioritized equity” and has recommended that an additional 20 percent of the vaccine go to “communities that have experienced disproportionate COVID burden.”

She said that “as vaccine supply increases, we will continue to increase access and availability to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID.”

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On Monday, Baker announced a plan to increase the number of vaccination sites across the Commonwealth in time for Phase 2, including one in Roxbury.

“Despite the fact that we continue to see record spikes in cases across the Commonwealth, I remain gravely concerned that your administration’s vaccination and response plans continue to fall short of serving the needs of the communities most impacted, including those in my Congressional district,” Pressley wrote to Baker.

Data show Black and Latino communities are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Chelsea, which is predominantly Latino, was among the hardest hit by COVID-19, with test positivity rates often several times higher there than in other parts of the state.

Facing uncertainty over the supply of vaccines for the next two months, Baker on Monday said state officials are “overbuilding” the infrastructure needed to deliver injections to people who will become eligible starting Feb. 1, including those 75 and older.

By mid-February, state officials said, the administration expects to have 165 injection sites, with the capacity to administer 305,000 doses per week, though the vaccine supply is expected to fall short of that. The new sites include three so-called mass vaccination sites, one of which will be at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, scheduled to open in the first week of February.

Prior to Baker’s announcement, most vaccination sites were being set up for first responders, and the remainder for other groups prioritized in Phase 1 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, such as health care workers and staffs of congregate care facilities, including shelters and group homes.

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Pressley has been outspoken about equity in vaccinations and has criticized the Massachusetts effort so far.

“This is about saving lives, and I just feel that the vaccine rollout to date, frankly, has been delayed and disorganized,” she told the Dorchester Reporter last week.

Read the full letter:

Deanna Pan, John Hancock, Travis Andersen, and Matt Stout of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.