Gov. Charlie Baker is trying to make coronavirus vaccine distribution more equitable in Massachusetts by pumping money and resources into some of the communities that have felt the heaviest impact of the pandemic.
The initiative deploys the Department of Public Health directly into 20 cities and towns that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The goal is to assure people that the vaccine is safe and effective while reducing barriers to getting vaccinated, according to the Baker administration.
Additionally, the state is spending $1 million on a grant program to support vaccination in historically underserved communities through the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. Qualified health centers can apply for $25,000 grants to educate patients and community members about the vaccine and increase uptake.
The equity program will zero in on Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester.
The 20 communities were chosen in part because they had the highest average daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and because they are communities with the highest percentage of people color.
But critics like Dr. Chris Garofolo of North Attleboro argue that if the state truly values equity and access, then doses are also needed at doctors offices like his.
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"We are the ones talking to our patients and convincing them," Garofolo said. "We're not asking to do thousands of doses. We want 100 - 100 a week. Let us get those doses and let us get those into those patients. We’ll get those patients."
A DPH Community Liaison will work with cities and towns to created a tailored approach for helping each community based on need, which could include providing vaccine questions in multiple languages or hiring local residents to go door-to-door for neighborhood and business outreach.
“We recognize the deep knowledge and expertise that exists in every community and our aim is to listen, respond, and work in concert to develop a customized approach for reaching as many residents as we can to increase vaccination,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said.
"I think it is a step in the right direction. I wish that would have been a step taken weeks ago, when vaccines became available," Attorney General Maura Healey said. "The fact is we should have had a plan for equity right on day one."
The newly launched Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition is demanding that Baker take further action, including to appoint a vaccine czar and push more money and resources into communities that have struggled during the pandemic.
The coalition says it welcomes Baker's new moves and hopes the renewed focus can make a difference.
Massachusetts now ranks in the Top 10 for vaccinations per capita, according to the CDC. Last week, the state administered more doses per week than it received from the federal government.