As everyone in Massachusetts 16 or older becomes eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine Monday, health officials cautioned the state must do more to deliver doses to communities of color, which have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.
With appointments open to 1.7 million more residents, the state will reserve 20,000 appointments for communities of color for a week, starting Monday, at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center mass-vaccination site, according to Governor Charlie Baker. A recent analysis found that Black and Latino communities have some of the lowest inoculation rates in the state.
But to help people in those communities more easily get shots, the state should work to open vaccination sites in neighborhoods, said Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology. Officials need to coordinate with community leaders to build trust in those efforts, he said, and make it as simple as possible by offering walk-in vaccinations.
“People not getting vaccinated; that’s a real concern,” Horsburgh said. “The way to do this is take the vaccinations to the communities themselves . . . you need to make it easy.”
Dr. David Hamer, a Boston Medical Center physician and Boston University epidemiologist, said greater outreach efforts would help address the concerns around vaccine hesitancy.
“For some people, it just may be due to time constraints or difficulty traveling across the city,” Hamer said. “If we can bring it to them, they may be more likely to access it.”
As the state prepared to expand eligibility, the Department of Public Health Sunday reported the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Massachusetts rose by 69,990, bringing the total to more than 5 million.
It also reported 1,265 new confirmed cases Sunday, bringing the total to more than 631,000. The death toll in Massachusetts due to the pandemic grew to 17,117, with seven more deaths.
The department said more than 34,000 people were estimated to have active cases of the potentially deadly coronavirus, and there were 701 confirmed virus patients in hospitals.
Last week, Baker acknowledged at a press conference that getting vaccinated can be stressful, especially for those in the communities that have been hardest hit by the virus.
The state has identified the 20 most affected communities and announced mobile and “pop-up” vaccination clinics in some of them, including Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, New Bedford, and Revere, spokeswoman Kate Reilly said in a statement Sunday. These sites will eventually offer up to 500 vaccines per day.
Additional vaccine has also been provided to the 20 communities, according to the statement.
The Baker administration has invested more than $30 million in vaccine equity, the statement added, pointing to data showing Massachusetts has provided first doses to more than 25 percent of Black residents and about 20 percent of Hispanic residents. Nationwide, roughly 12 percent of Black and Hispanic Americans have received first doses.
“Equity has been a core principle of the vaccine distribution in the Commonwealth since day one of the vaccine distribution,” the statement said.
This week at the Hynes, the “Red Sox Week” initiative will include bilingual Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers and Spanish-language signage, according to the state.
Diana Rastegayeva, the founder of Massachusetts COVID Vaccination Help, a volunteer group that helps people book appointments, said it would be “hugely helpful” to have more neighborhood sites in hard-hit communities, but language barriers remain a problem.
She said the administration must do more to improve access for people who do not speak English or Spanish. Much of the state’s COVID-19 material isn’t translated into other commonly spoken languages, including Portuguese and Mandarin, she said.
“The state has not made it easy for anyone at all,” Rastegayeva said.
Reilly said the state’s sign-up website, available in English and Spanish, will soon get more language options. The state’s main COVID-19 website provides information in 10 languages.
People can also dial 211 to reach a call center that uses more than 100 languages to help people preregister, the statement said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.