The leaders of Boston Vaccine Day believe that vaccines and the people who make, test, and get them are worthy of an all-out shindig.
Boston Vaccine Day, a free, event-filled program on Sept. 18 in Roxbury’s Malcolm X Park, is designed not only to reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase education in underserved communities, but also to unabashedly make merry.
“Our event centers around the world that we want to build, so there’s a brighter future, one that’s more equitable and more filled with joy, where all people are thriving,” said Keona Wynne, a PhD student in population health sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the senior project manager of Boston Vaccine Day. “We know that the best way to get there is to end the pandemic and to stop the spread of COVID-19 … and one of our most powerful tools is vaccination.”
So, in the service of joy, from noon to 8 p.m. the park will be filled with festivities, including an all-day concert series featuring artists like Miranda Rae and Najee Janey, lawn games including giant Jenga and cornhole led by the Volo sports league, local vendors, a cardio class from Trillfit, and family-friendly activities from the Museum of Science.
Boston Vaccine Day is also working to bring in small business vendors, giving a space for the Haitian American Medical Association to offer “culturally relevant vaccine education,” Wynne said, and providing free onsite vaccinations offered by Curative. There will also be opportunities for mourning those who died during the pandemic, including a ceremony of remembrance and a remembrance wall.
Wynne said that while the event is intended for everybody, it is geared toward people of color to subvert messaging that communities like Roxbury are failing due to lower vaccine rates. In the ZIP code where Malcolm X Park is located, 61.9 percent of individuals are fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the City of Boston.
“We start with a lot of the [activities] that we already see are really loved in our communities, and move forward there with this message of vaccination as a way to have more of that,” Wynne said.
Boston Vaccine Day is sponsored by 1Day Sooner, an organization that advocates for volunteers to participate in ”human challenge” trials. In these trials, individuals are deliberately exposed to viruses in order to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines and hasten their development. Almost 40,000 people signed up with 1Day Sooner to potentially become subjects in these trials for COVID-19. 1Day Sooner will not be recruiting trial volunteers at the event, Wynne said.
1Day Sooner first pitched Boston Vaccine Day to acting Mayor Kim Janey in March in an open letter signed by over 50 individuals, most of whom are public health experts at Boston-area institutions. This followed 1Day Sooner advocating for a National Vaccine Day, an initiative backed by four former US surgeons general and first conceived by 1Day Sooner about a year ago, said company president Josh Morrison.
“Boston [is] kind of the pilot for what we hope will be other vaccine days in other cities, other regions, and hopefully a National Vaccine Day,” Morrison said.
The Massachusetts Health Council, the MGH Institute of Health Professions, and the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics are also attached to Boston Vaccine Day as partner organizations.
Beyond Boston, the event is already attracting some star-studded buzz. Michael Schur, creator of the television shows “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation,” signed on as a volunteer last year to enlist celebrities from Boston to make PSA videos about the celebration.
“Even though the amount of death and destruction caused by the virus is unprecedented, it could have been a thousand times worse,” Schur said in a phone interview. “That’s why we should be having a giant party ... and celebrating how awesome science is and how awesome the scientists are who helped us get this thing at least sort of under control.”
Masks are recommended at the outdoor festival, Wynne said, and the team put out a call for volunteers to help on the day of the event.
“Being vaccinated has made my life — and I think a lot of people’s lives — a lot better and a lot more exciting and happy,” said Morrison. “Having an event that treats vaccination as a celebration and as a celebration of the arts, that was really, really important to us.”
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org