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‘Mobile Vax’ effort launched Saturday in hard-hit communities, starting with East Boston

Vaccine recipients waited in line in Central Square Park outside a coach bus converted into a mobile vaccine clinic in East Boston Saturday.
Vaccine recipients waited in line in Central Square Park outside a coach bus converted into a mobile vaccine clinic in East Boston Saturday.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Hundreds lined up in East Boston Saturday at the first of a series of mobile vaccination clinics planned for several hard-hit communities by a coalition of community and health care groups.

The “Mobile Vax” program — intended to make it easier for high-risk communities to secure vaccine doses — was launched in the city’s Central Square Park under a collaboration among Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which completed a merger earlier this year, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Latino Equity Fund, along with other organizations.

“It’s important to bring the vaccine to the local community, especially the Black and brown community,” said Adam Scott, senior vice president of health care services at Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, in a phone interview.

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Those groups have faced barriers to accessing the life-saving doses, including transportation issues and vaccine hesitancy, he said. The program’s goal is to provide 25,000 vaccinations to residents of East Boston, Chelsea, Chicopee, and Holyoke over the next two months.

“This is about getting shots into arms,” Scott said.

The outreach effort came less than a day after the state greenlighted resuming use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which had been sidelined earlier this month as officials investigated rare reports of patients who suffered blood clots after being vaccinated.

The number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Massachusetts rose by 102,657 to 5,605,747, state officials reported Saturday.

The number of new vaccinations was fewer than on Friday, when 106,038 were reported.

The department also reported 1,386 new confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 639,314. The department also reported 12 new confirmed coronavirus deaths, bringing the state’s total to 17,193.

The state said 29,717 people were estimated to have active cases of the potentially deadly virus, and 633 confirmed coronavirus patients were in the hospital.

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Erika Sanchez, a vaccine ambassador with Archipelago Strategies Group, helped vaccine recipients fill out forms while they wait in line at the mobile vaccine site.
Erika Sanchez, a vaccine ambassador with Archipelago Strategies Group, helped vaccine recipients fill out forms while they wait in line at the mobile vaccine site.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

On Saturday afternoon in the park, people lined up outside a coach bus that had been converted to serve as a mobile vaccination clinic.

As clients stood in line, workers answered their questions. Inside the bus, workers including staff from Brewster Ambulance aided with the process.

The vaccination program administered Pfizer/BioNTech doses to about 500 people, according to organizers. People were encouraged to make an appointment, but the program also accepted people who had not booked a time for a shot.

Patients who received doses left written thank you messages on a banner at the vaccination site. A slogan printed on the side of the bus read, “My reason: protect my community.”

In Boston, the Public Health Commission reported that, as of Friday, there have been 1,364 deaths in the city due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Boston reported more than 68,000 cases of the virus, according to the commission.

White residents have accounted for 34 percent of known cases in Boston, the commission reported, and Latino and Hispanic residents made up 30 percent. Black and African-American residents represent about a quarter of Boston cases, while another 6 percent of cases involve those of Asian and Pacific Island descent.

White residents account for 43 percent of COVID-19 deaths, followed by Black and African-Americans, who were 33 percent of the city’s pandemic deaths. Latino and Hispanic residents were 13 percent, and Asian and Pacific Islander residents were 8 percent.

East Boston has been among communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

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More than 19 percent of the roughly 39,000 tests conducted in the neighborhood have been positive for COVID-19 since the health crisis began last year, according to commission data. That positivity figure is higher than in any other Boston neighborhood — and more than double that of places like Charlestown, the South End, and Jamaica Plain.

Scott said Saturday that he welcomed the news about the renewed availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which rejoins vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.

“These vaccines save lives,” he said.

Public health experts have repeatedly called for greater measures to help administer vaccines to state residents who are at most at-risk for contracting COVID-19.

Governor Charlie Baker has said he is prioritizing state efforts to address vaccine hesitancy, and on Thursday, the administration launched TV ads as part of its ongoing $5 million “Trust the Facts, Get the Vax” public awareness campaign.

The new commercials, broadcast in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language, will run into the summer and offer reasons for getting the vaccine, reminding people that the vaccine saves lives, the administration said in a statement.

The Baker administration pointed to US Centers for Disease Control data that it said showed “extremely low” rates of vaccine hesitancy, but added that “the administration recognizes that people in communities of color and the hardest-hit cities and towns may face additional barriers to vaccine acceptance and access.”

Globe correspondent Nathan Klima contributed to this report.

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Vaccine recipients left thank you messages on a banner at the mobile vaccine site Saturday.
Vaccine recipients left thank you messages on a banner at the mobile vaccine site Saturday.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

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