Vaccine Campaign Will Target 20 Highest Risk Cities
Mobile Clinics Also Launching in Five Cities
4/1/21 3:54 PM
APRIL 1, 2021.....Massachusetts will kick off an outreach campaign next week in the 20 highest-risk cities and towns aimed at boosting access to the COVID-19 vaccine and addressing any hesitation among vulnerable populations, officials said Thursday.
A team of 200 bilingual community organizers will hold a total of 83 events across those communities, plus conduct door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking to spread awareness about the availability and value of vaccines.
Combined with grants the Baker administration will direct to local health boards in those cities and towns, officials hope to help drive up vaccination in places where rates still lag and where residents have been particularly hard-hit.
"It's like a political campaign, except it's vaccine canvassing," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said at a Thursday press conference after touring a food bank and then a vaccination site at La Colaborativa in Chelsea.
The community events set to launch next week, part of a plan developed alongside Archipelago Strategies and Health Care for All, involve locally hired organizers in Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that his administration will make $4.7 million available to those cities and towns from a pool of $20 million in funding his office pledged to help support them. The so-called "best value grants" will flow directly to the municipalities without a formal application process.
Last week, Baker also announced his administration would direct $100 million to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph, four hard-hit communities that are in line for disproportionately small batches of federal aid through the American Rescue Plan.
Baker said added resources will "move the needle forward" to reduce vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, also noting that surveys show hesitation among other populations such as white Republican men.
"For a bunch of people, there's a hesitancy, and it's different reasons for different people," Baker said. "The more people you get vaccinated, the more familiar people become with other people who have been vaccinated, the more likely you'll be to get folks here vaccinated but also to get some of the white populations that are hesitant to get vaccinated."
Local leaders praised the added funding designed to boost vaccination efforts, describing vaccine hesitancy in communities of color as a result of decades of underinvestment and inequity.
Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa, said that convincing younger residents to get vaccinated has proven to be one of the largest challenges during its rollout. While many young people are not eligible for vaccines yet, some are due to their occupations.
"They don't believe in the vaccination, but they love to party and gather," Vega said, later adding, "Don't be afraid of the vaccination. Be afraid of COVID-19 that has taken so many lives away from us."
Next week, mobile vaccine clinics will also launch in Chelsea, Revere, Boston, Fall River and New Bedford as part of a federal partnership at the Hynes Convention Center mass vaccination site.
Teams will pick up doses at the Hynes each day, then set up smaller vaccination sites in city parks, parking lots and other easy-to-access areas. Baker said the effort will ramp up to about 500 doses per day in each of the five communities.
The mobile program will run for about eight weeks, Baker said, the same duration as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's program to direct 6,000 more doses per day to the Hynes.
Baker and Sudders said Thursday that they are not concerned about next week's promised shipment of 100,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to Massachusetts in the wake of a manufacturing error that reportedly led to as many as 15 million potential shots being ruined.
That imminent batch is "not in jeopardy," Sudders said, though the administration is not yet sure what to expect for the following weeks. The administration plans to push out the burst of Johnson & Johnson doses through existing channels such as regional collaboratives, community health centers, and its homebound and low-income senior housing programs, Sudders said.
J&J said its quality control process "identified one batch of drug substance that did not meet quality standards" at the Emergent Bayview Facility in Baltimore, which has not yet received emergency use authorization for manufacturing.
Asked if he was concerned by the manufacturing problem, Baker replied that "the message I take from this is actually the opposite."
"People screwed up, people recognized it, people ditched it," Baker said. "The message to me is whatever the control process was that was in place there, it worked. Those vaccines didn't get distributed."
"It's a shame to have 15 million vaccines, when you're in a race against variants, go down the drain," Baker continued. "But the good news is the control process worked. The control process worked, they realized they had a problem and they didn't ship any of them."
With eligibility set to expand on Monday to adults 55 and older and those with one medical condition increasing their risks from COVID-19, the Baker administration continues its push to target vulnerable populations for the potentially life-saving immunization.
The general public will become available starting April 19, which is several weeks later than some other states such as New York and Connecticut.
Baker defended his administration's rollout efforts on Thursday, noting that more than 80 percent of the state's residents aged 75 and older and more than 70 percent of those 65 and older have been vaccinated.
"People tell me all the time that there are other states that have broader eligibility standards than we do," Baker said. "Every single one of those states that people have raised with me that was a significantly sized state has vaccinated fewer people as a percent of their population fully, fewer people in terms of their first dose, and typically, in most cases, have not put as much of the vaccine that's been made available to them to work."
Through Wednesday afternoon, Massachusetts had fully vaccinated more than 1.33 million residents, about 24 percent of the state's adults. That's a slightly higher rate than the 21.7 percent of adults fully vaccinated nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published Thursday.
"Eligibility is one thing. Actually executing on the ground and getting big portions of the populations that are eligible vaccinated is another, and I think the way we've set this up has been the appropriate way," Baker said.
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