Massachusetts officials announced Wednesday the state will receive $27.4 million as part of a nationwide initiative to increase vaccine acceptance and administration among communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The announcement came the day after more than 100 demonstrators rallied outside Chelsea City Hall to protest the amount of federal aid earmarked for the predominantly Latino city — the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts — in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
The funding, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is targeted for the Baker administration’s Vaccine Equity Initiative, which focuses on 20 cities and towns in Massachusetts with the greatest COVID-19 case burden, taking into account the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on persons of color.
These hard-hit communities include Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester.
“We must be intentional and public about steps in order to be equitable, and with the allocation of these funds from the federal government, we are being intentional with where the money will be spent to ensure equity,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said to the applause of leaders at the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center on Wednesday.
Over a third of the $27.4 million will go toward increasing access to vaccine clinics, assistance with appointment registration, and medical interpretation as delivered through community-based organizations, according to the Baker administration. The rest — $16.8 million — will be distributed to community health centers, local boards of health, and faith-based organizations to increase vaccination rates among communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
After a shaky start, Massachusetts has improved its ability to distribute vaccines over the past two months. It now ranks 10th nationally (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) in total doses administered per capita, and sixth in the percentage of supply used, a metric that demonstrates efficiency and minimal waste. But as with the rest of the country, vaccine equity has remained an issue.
Massachusetts lags in its efforts to vaccinate Black residents, who make up 7 percent of the population and 8 percent of total COVID cases, but have received just 6 percent of vaccinations, according to data released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The situation is worse for Latino residents, who account for 12 percent of the population and a staggering 28 percent of total COVID cases, but have been administered just 5 percent of total vaccinations, per the foundation’s data. Many experts say the disparity is a result of a lack of trust, information, and accessibility, all of which impede residents of hard-hit communities from getting vaccinated.
The state released new data last Thursday on vaccination rates by ZIP code that reaffirmed the lag in vaccination rates among Latino residents. In Lawrence, for example, where 82 percent of the population is Latino, just 2 percent of Latino residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 47 percent of white residents, who make up just 12 percent of the population. In Chelsea, where 68 percent of the population is Latino, just 7 percent of Latino residents have been vaccinated, compared with one-third of the city’s white residents.
At the press conference Wednesday, Sudders laid out how this week’s 316,000 doses were distributed to vaccination sites around the state. Mass vaccination sites received the most doses at 101,890, while health systems and health care providers received the second most with 99,230 doses. The rest were spread among pharmacies, mobile clinics, community health centers, local boards of health, and regional collaboratives.
Massachusetts officials have long touted the importance of mass vaccination sites, at places such as Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, as means of accommodating hordes of eligible residents each day. But critics lament that such sites can be difficult for many people to access.
A February poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 31 percent of Black respondents nationwide were very likely to get vaccinated at “a large vaccination site run by the government,” where 72 percent were very likely to get vaccinated at “their own doctor’s office.”
The Baker administration received intense backlash in mid-February when it decided to halt vaccine distribution to hospitals and funnel the available supply to mass vaccination sites and pharmacies. A week and a half later, Massachusetts officials resumed distribution to hospitals, which have remained a statewide leader in doses administered ever since receiving the first round of vaccines in December. Public health experts recommend a diverse array of vaccination sites in order to increase accessibility and trust among all residents.
Hanna Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannaskrueger.