Vaccine Disparity May Factor Into School Districts' Mask Decisions

While Gov. Charlie Baker has announced that Massachusetts' statewide mask requirement in schools will end on Feb. 28, the choice may be more difficult for underserved communities like Brockton, where just 27% of children 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine; other places, like Needham and Wayland, have exceeded 90%

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The debate over whether or not students and staff should be able to ditch their masks is playing out in almost every district now that Massachusetts is dropping its statewide mandate at the end of the month.

Gov. Charlie Baker cited high COVID-19 vaccination rates among children as one reason for his decision, but that is not the case in every community.



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The state's data shows there are a lot of disparities in underserved communities, including Brockton. Only 27% of the city's children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose. The low vaccination rate is a striking comparison to places like Needham and Wayland, which have exceeded 90%.

"People are really hesitant. They have been hesitant from the beginning," said Kristi Glenn of Pinnacle Partnerships.

Glenn works for a non-profit that is helping with vaccine outreach in Brockton. She said they are doing everything from communicating in different languages, doing home delivery and even coordinating toy giveaways at clinics.

"We just really try to think about what our community connects to," Glenn said. "What do people here really like and need?"

They are also posting innovative videos on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to try to reach even more young people.

"That's what they live and breathe. It's that platform, so communicating through social media will be key," said John Messia, the director of Brockton's Health Equity Task Force.

Brockton is hosting another vaccination clinic at North Middle School on Saturday. The city is also planning more outreach over February vacation.

In Westwood, close to 90% of kids ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The school committee is discussing making them optional at its meeting on Thursday night.

"They are ecstatic. They've been bearing the burden of this for a long time. I think they've done their part, and it's time for them to return to some normalcy," Westwood parent Antigne Grasso said.

Grasso is hopeful her children will be able to take their masks off in Westwood, and that more communities will do the same.

"I definitely think it should be a focus in the communities with a lower vaccination rate to understand how to get them to a higher level and get more people comfortable with going to mask optional," Grasso said.

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