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CORONAVIRUS

Clinics aim to boost vaccination rates among people of color in R.I.

Organizers are reaching out to register BIPOC communities for vaccines in Providence and Woonsocket on April 10 and 11

Pastor Howard M. Jenkins Jr. of the Bethel AME Church in Providence speaks during a March 25 news conference, calling for the state to hold a  COVID-19 vaccination weekend for people of color in Rhode Island.
Pastor Howard M. Jenkins Jr. of the Bethel AME Church in Providence speaks during a March 25 news conference, calling for the state to hold a COVID-19 vaccination weekend for people of color in Rhode Island.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE ― Organizers hope that as many as 6,000 people of color in Rhode Island will receive vaccines on the weekend of April 10-11 at locations in Providence and Woonsocket.

Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, a member of the state Equity Council and one of the organizers, said the goal is to vaccinate up to 3,000 people of color on April 10 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, up to 1,500 people at 1500 Diamond Hill Road in Woonsocket on April 10, and another 1,500 people at the Woonsocket site on April 11.

People can register for the vaccines at six locations on Sunday, April 4, and community leaders are emailing out single-use private links and going door-to-door to try to reach the hard-hit Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) population, Muñoz said. While the vaccinations will be administered in Providence and Woonsocket, organizers hope to reach BIPOC residents throughout the state, he said.

On March 25, a group of Black and Latino leaders stood on the State House steps as part of a “Call for Health Justice,” urging the state to hold a mass COVID-19 vaccination weekend for people of color. They said vaccination rates for people of color are lagging behind those of the white residents at a time when people of color are facing greater risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

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While the state has prioritized hard-hit, high-density ZIP codes, Black and Latino leaders say that strategy is insufficient because people of color are spread across the state. And while some people are hesitant to get the vaccine, they said the bigger barriers are vaccine allocation and access.

“I am happy it is happening,” Muñoz said Saturday. “I’m grateful that we can save lives and reduce the harm by reducing the vaccine allocation gap. But moving forward, communities of color should not have to suffer the consequences of health care inequities before an administration is willing to act on them.”

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State Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken issued a statement, saying that Governor Daniel J. McKee worked with the Equity Council to organize “equity-focused COVID-19 vaccination clinics,” which aim to “reach Rhode Islanders hardest hit by COVID-19 and those most at risk for severe health outcomes if they get COVID-19.”

Rhode Islanders living in specific areas have had higher rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths throughout the pandemic, Wendelken said. The clinics would not exclude non-BIPOC residents, he said.

“The focus is on vaccinating people at highest risk,” Wendelken said. “That will include people of color, but it could also include people from higher incidence ZIP codes, for example. These clinics were organized to get people vaccinated who are at highest risk, according to the data.”

Jim Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP and a member of the governor’s Equity Council, said Black and Latino people ages 35 to 44 are three times more likely to be hospitalized than white people ages 75 to 84 because of COVID-19.

“This is opportunity for the hardest hit communities to get vaccinated so that disparity can go away,” Vincent said. “It’s an equity effort in the hardest hit communities to rally Black, Indigenous, People of Color to get vaccinated and to make it as easy as possible.”

Everyone in Rhode Island needs to be vaccinated for the entire state population to be safe, he said.

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“We are not trying to exclude anyone,” Vincent said. “But we are making an extra effort to get the hardest hit communities vaccinated. We are all in this together.”

Community organizers said people may register on Sunday, April 4, at these six locations:

  • Watt Th. Karam Cambodian Khmer Temple, 178 Hanover St., Providence, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Providence Hmong Church, 46 Dexter St., Providence, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Bethel AME, 30 Rochambeau Ave., Providence, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Mount Hope Community Center, 199 Camp St., Providence, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Iglesia Vision Evangelica, 1014 Broad St., Providence, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • New Bridges for Haitian Success, 246 Prairie Ave., Providence, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Muñoz said that if the demand exceeds the 6,000 doses available next weekend, organizers are talking about holding more clinics on the weekend of April 17-18.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.