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Boston neighborhoods hit hardest by virus have lowest vaccination rates

Marty Martinez, the city’s Health and Human Services chief, inspected the setup for the mass vaccination site at the Reggie Lewis Center before it opened last month.
Marty Martinez, the city’s Health and Human Services chief, inspected the setup for the mass vaccination site at the Reggie Lewis Center before it opened last month.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Boston neighborhoods with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates — East Boston, Mattapan, and Dorchester — have endured some of the highest levels of coronavirus cases in the city, according to newly released data from the Boston Public Health Commission.

Conversely, the neighborhoods with the highest vaccination rates — including West Roxbury, the South End, and Jamaica Plain — have experienced much lower rates of infection since the beginning of the pandemic.

The new vaccination data from the city, which the health commission plans to publish every Monday, is broken down by the race and ethnicity of recipients, their neighborhood and age group, as well as the date the doses were administered. During a virtual round table on vaccine equity Tuesday, Marty Martinez, the city’s Health and Human Services chief, discussed the data and described the city’s strategy for ensuring the vaccines are accessible to everyone in Boston, particularly Latino residents, who have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 infections, and Black residents, who are overrepresented in COVID-19 deaths.

Martinez said the disparities in the neighborhood vaccination data are in part a result of Massachusetts’ current eligibility requirements. The vaccines are only available to people who qualify under Phase 1 of the state’s plan, such as health care workers and first responders, plus those 65 and older or with two or more specific medical conditions. He said the city will continue to monitor the data to identify gaps in vaccine access or acceptance.

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“If you know Boston, you know neighborhoods [and] you sort of know where large numbers of health care workers, large numbers of first responders live,” Martinez said Tuesday.

“Right now, our hardest hit neighborhoods are also the neighborhoods that are the lowest vaccinated by population,” he added. “So we really want to make sure that that trend is more about who’s eligible — not about who’s going to take the vaccine [and who’s not].”

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As of Feb. 23, nearly 96,000 first doses have been administered to Boston residents, according to the health commission, representing about 16 percent of the population over age 16. Bostonians 75 and older have been vaccinated at the highest rate, based on their share of the city’s population, at roughly 60,700 doses per 100,000 people.

The neighborhoods with the lowest inoculation rates tend to have predominantly Black and Latino populations. East Boston and Mattapan have the lowest rates at roughly 10,403 and 10,561 first doses per 100,000 residents, respectively, followed by the 02121 and 02125 ZIP codes in Dorchester (10,637 first doses per 100,000), which encompass Grove Hall, Uphams Corner, and Jones Hill.

By comparison, in West Roxbury, which is roughly 70 percent white, the inoculation rate is the city’s highest at just over 20,000 first doses per 100,000 people. The South End and Jamaica Plain also rank among the neighborhoods with the highest rates at about 19,900 and 18,900 first doses per 100,000, respectively.

The data shows white residents in Boston have been vaccinated at the highest rate (16,215 first doses per 100,000), based on their proportion of the population. That’s followed by Asian residents (15,115 first doses per 100,000) and Black residents (14,089 first doses per 100,000).

Latino residents have by far the lowest vaccination rate in the city at 8,086 first doses per 100,000 people.

Alexandra Oliver-Dávila, executive director of Sociedad Latina and a member of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force, said at Tuesday’s round table that the relatively low Latino vaccination rate “speaks to a lot of issues,” including many Latino immigrants’ fear and distrust of government, which worsened under former president Donald Trump’s administration.

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“You have to be savvy, you have to be online, you have to know how to navigate things,” she said of the challenges of booking a vaccination appointment. Language is also a barrier, she said, and so is transportation. “Not everybody can get everywhere around the city,” she added.

There are 18 vaccination sites open to the public within city limits. The city’s goal, Martinez said, is to increase that number to 25.

Martinez said the city is taking a four-pronged approach. The first part of the strategy relies on mass vaccination sites, like the Reggie Lewis Center at Roxbury Community College, where half of the appointments are being set aside for community groups serving immigrants and residents of color. The city is also supporting clinics aimed at specific priority groups, smaller neighborhood-based sites, and mobile vaccination units that will deliver shots to the most vulnerable residents.

On Friday, Boston’s Emergency Medical Services will pilot a mobile vaccination program at a Housing Authority building in Roxbury, Martinez said, the first of at least three teams he hopes will bring the vaccines to the homebound and hardest-to-reach. The city is also planning a clinic in Mattapan on Monday that will eventually serve essential workers. Martinez said the city hopes to open a second clinic for essential workers in Dorchester as well.

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“We believe we will need all four of these strategies to vaccinate in an equitable way,” Martinez said, “[and] to ensure we have a large number of folks that get vaccinated.”


Deanna Pan can be reached at deanna.pan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @DDpan.