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As Mass. approaches 4.1 million vaccinated goal, holding small local clinics will be ‘long-haul process’

Keyanna Robinson, 16, of Boston spoke with Alexandra Buyuk, a Cataldo Ambulance EMT, before getting a COVID-19 shot on board the "Vax Express," a commuter rail train at the Blue Hill Avenue stop in Boston last week.
Keyanna Robinson, 16, of Boston spoke with Alexandra Buyuk, a Cataldo Ambulance EMT, before getting a COVID-19 shot on board the "Vax Express," a commuter rail train at the Blue Hill Avenue stop in Boston last week.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

As the state edged closer Saturday to its goal of getting 4.1 million residents vaccinated, advocates said officials must press on with efforts to inoculate people who remain unprotected.

Governor Charlie Baker first set that goal in January; the target later shifted to include adolescents. As of Saturday, more than 4.07 million people were vaccinated in Massachusetts — about 58 percent of the state population.

But Louis Elisa, a member of Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition’s steering committee, warned that COVID-19 is far from defeated, even with continuing declines in new deaths and cases and a reopened state economy.

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“These things don’t go away because we stop putting them into the newspaper [and] they’re not front page anymore,” Elisa said in a phone interview. “This is a long-haul process.”

Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a Boston University professor of epidemiology, said the state must aim to inoculate three-quarters or more of its residents.

“The people who really wanted the vaccine have gotten it. But the people who aren’t so sure need to get it,” Horsburgh said. “And we need to help them be sure.”

The vaccines have significantly diminished the pandemic’s impact in Massachusetts with average numbers of new deaths, cases, and hospitalizations dropping to the lowest they have been since the start of the pandemic, according to state data.

In May, adolescents ages 12 to 15 became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. As of Saturday, about 98,000 in that group were fully vaccinated, according to a state spokeswoman.

But the virus remains a threat: Massachusetts’ death toll was 17,602, including six new deaths as of Saturday, according to the state. There were 91 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to more than 663,000.

The state reported 17,819 new administered doses of vaccine Saturday.

During a Tuesday press conference, Baker was asked what his new goal for vaccinations would be once the state reached the goal of 4.1 million people.

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“More — the new number would be more,” Baker said.

Horsburgh said officials must expand incentives for getting vaccinated and make the process easier, with conveniences such as walk-up clinics. Physicians should also be able to vaccinate patients, as they can answer questions and address their concerns, he said.

“It’s much more likely that people will accept the vaccine when everyone else in their community is doing it,” Horsburgh said.

A range of local efforts have replaced the mass vaccination sites that were in place for months, some offering gift cards and other prizes to help attract interest. And the state is supporting programs including the “Vax Express,” which has used the MBTA Commuter Rail as a mobile vaccination clinic in Boston, Worcester, and Lowell in recent days. The train visited Lawrence on Saturday.

Steven Gil, a member of Lawrence’s Board of Health and a registered nurse, said community efforts to vaccinate people have faced language and cultural barriers. So far, about 40 percent of Lawrence’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

It’s imperative that the outreach continue, according to Gil, but it must be tailored to residents.

“I think we need to be innovative ... and try to make it more personalized to our individuals in Lawrence,” he said in a phone interview. “We should be more culturally sensitive to the needs and the wants of our culture in our community.”

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In Boston Saturday, Elisa said the community coalition had set up a mobile vaccination site during a Juneteenth celebration at the Shattuck Hospital campus. The Black residents organization organizes pop-up clinics and is looking to expand its schedule of days and operating hours.

About 55 percent of Boston’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the state.

Elisa said many unvaccinated people want to get the shots, but have jobs and other responsibilities that make it difficult to get to a clinic. It is critical, Elisa said, that local mobile and pop-up efforts are expanded to reach them, he said.

“Health care is no joke. Even though we have smiling faces because we are able to sit out in a restaurant, or go stand in crowds and cheer for our teams ... a little more caution” is needed, Elisa said. “It’s not over.”

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


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