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Lawmakers seek $25.2 billion for vaccine equity as part of budget plan, Markey says

The Reverend Miniard Culpepper, left, received his first Moderna vaccine shot from registered nurse Samantha De Jesus at the Whittier Street Health Center last month.
The Reverend Miniard Culpepper, left, received his first Moderna vaccine shot from registered nurse Samantha De Jesus at the Whittier Street Health Center last month.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Senator Edward Markey said Saturday that lawmakers are seeking $25.2 billion to address COVID-19 health disparities nationally and protect vulnerable populations hardest hit by the pandemic as part of President Biden’s stimulus package.

The funding package was discussed during a nearly hour-long livestream discussion regarding efforts to ensure equity in vaccine distribution as people of color are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

That effort not only includes ongoing work to overcome skepticism of vaccines among some people of color, but to provide the funding and support for local, community-driven efforts to help people navigate the state’s phased vaccination rollout and help them secure appointments to get shots.

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The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, who founded the COVID-19 Clergy Committee in Boston and participated in Saturday’s session, received his first vaccine shot last month as part of an effort to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“One of the things I think we really need to drill down on is helping folks understand exactly what the vaccine is, exactly what the vaccine does, who is eligible [and] at what point,” said Culpepper, who is senior pastor of the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church. “We need to come up with a strategy so we can narrow down [and] we can really focus on the folks that we really want to get the vaccine.”

Markey said the federal money — which lawmakers seek to include as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package — would be focused on protecting communities of color and communities hit hard by the coronavirus.

Black, Latinx, indigenous, and immigrant communities have suffered a disproportionate burden from COVID-19, Markey said, and they must be prioritized as the nation works to vaccinate millions across the country.

“They were the first to get the virus, the first to stay on the job, the first to die, but the last to get the relief and the care they need during this crisis,” Markey said. “Racial justice — and that means health care justice, environmental justice, and economic justice — must be our number one priority as we combat the ongoing pandemic.”

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On Saturday, the state Department of Public Health reported 1,822 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 538,328. The state also reported 53 new confirmed coronavirus deaths, bringing its total to 15,462. The department said 36,316 people were estimated to have active cases of the potentially deadly virus, and 970 confirmed coronavirus patients were in the hospital.

The $25.2 billion vaccine equity package would include $7.6 billion to support COVID-19 response efforts at community health centers; $1.8 billion for COVID-19 testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and vaccines for staff and people in congregate settings; and $3.3 billion for infrastructure technology for telehealth and electronic health records, urban Indian organizations, and other health services and costs, according to Markey’s office.

It also would set aside $800 million to the National Health Service Corps to support primary health care clinicians in high-need areas and $331 million for Teaching Health Centers to expand the number of sites across the country. The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment program, which helps support nurses working in underserved areas, would receive $240 million.

There would also be a Medicaid state option for states to cover postpartum women for a year after giving birth to help address the maternal mortality crisis disproportionately affecting women of color, Markey’s office said. For incarcerated people, Medicaid coverage would be provided 30 days prior to their release to ensure continuity of care.

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Alongside the $25.2 billion to address health disparities, lawmakers are asking for $7.5 billion that would be for US Centers for Disease Control vaccine distribution efforts and another $1 billion for vaccine awareness, Markey’s office said.

Representative Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who were among those on the call with Markey and Culpepper, said they were working on the health disparities package.

“Our job over the next two weeks is to make sure what we are doing here doesn’t end up on the cutting-room floor,” Warren said.

Pressley said the key aspect of the $25.2 billion is “the nimbleness of the funds” — lawmakers must ensure this money can be used quickly and directly supports local communities’ responses to COVID-19.

Pressley has implored Governor Charlie Baker to focus on communities of color during the state’s vaccine rollout. On Saturday, Pressley said she, Markey, and Warren have been pushing the state to improve its collection of anonymized racial demographic data from vaccine recipients.

Pressley’s district spans Suffolk County, where concerns have been raised about the difficulties faced by Black and Latino residents seeking access to vaccines. On Tuesday, the Baker administration announced a Department of Public Health-led initiative focused on providing resources to communities with high “social vulnerability” and COVID-19 caseloads.

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Pressley on Saturday criticized the Baker administration’s efforts to ensure equity in administering the vaccines.

“Right now, the administration is really failing those most impacted,” Pressley said. “The Massachusetts Seventh Congressional District is a diverse, vibrant, and dynamic district, and one of the hardest hit.”

Kate Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center, in a statement Saturday night pointed to the plan announced by the administration Tuesday. Work in those communities will result in “targeted opportunities” for increased vaccine access and methods, such as mobile vaccine clinics and pop up clinics, according to Reilly.

”These municipalities will also be prioritized for the federal retail pharmacy program and federally qualified health centers are also prioritized for vaccines,” Reilly said.

Democratic state Representative Nika Elugardo, who represents parts of Boston and Brookline and was also on Saturday’s call, emphasized the importance of establishing trust in any outreach effort. That includes working directly with leaders in communities who already have the trust of residents, such as clergy and public health officials, she said.

“Without going to the trusted players, no people in our communities are going to trust government or the health care system,” Elugardo said.

Michael Curry, president of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, emphasized the importance of local leaders in the vaccination effort.

“There is something inspirational about walking into a church, and seeing [somebody] being vaccinated with a smile on their face,” Curry said.

Globe correspondent Caroline Enos contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.