Although it is only a few weeks old, 2021 already stands out as a year of dramatic swings from good news to bad news and back again. I know many of us are riveted by the daily progress of the vaccine rollout, recognizing that broad-scale distribution could soon bring an end to the pandemic. It is all the more frustrating when this hope is thwarted through poor planning and implementation.
We know that historical and ongoing systemic racism is at the heart of many barriers to equitable vaccination – whether that be based on the location of vaccination sites or so-called “vaccine hesitancy” born out of earned distrust in health care or government.
And we are seeing these barriers play out clearly in the data that is being reported by the state about who is receiving the vaccine. As of January 21 (the most recent data reported), less than 3% of those who have gotten a first shot are Black and 3.5% are Hispanic/Latinx. This is completely unacceptable in a public health crisis that has seen Black and Brown communities bearing a disproportionate share of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
It is critical that the Baker administration take action now to engage well-respected community organizations and leaders in a comprehensive campaign to build trust with community members.
The state is already desperately late in taking such action and, as a result, barriers are plaguing Phase I of the roll out – with relatively low numbers of workers in long-term care facilities being willing to accept vaccination, as well as significant mistrust in the vaccine from people who are incarcerated or living in congregate care settings.
We cannot wait until further stages of the Phase II role out to address these urgent issues of communication and engagement. Lives are at stake.
To be clear, a focus on equity benefits everyone. We will not be successful in defeating this virus without focusing on those who are most impacted by it.
In addition to these concerns about vaccination, we must question Governor Baker’s recent decision to lift the evening curfew for restaurants, casinos and other indoor venues. We are learning more every day about the new variants of COVID-19, including emerging evidence that they are more transmissible and more deadly.
Given the fact that we have confirmed cases of one new variant here in Massachusetts, this is the wrong time to be relaxing public health restrictions. We fear that Governor Baker is repeating the same mistake he has made in the past – namely reopening too hastily, and that once again we will lose the small gains we have made against the virus.
MPHA issued a press statement yesterday raising our concerns about vaccine equity and will be working with our partners and stakeholders to address these issues moving forward. Stay tuned for more information about how you can take action.
Thank you, as always, for your support of strong public health protections and your partnership in the effort to realize true health equity.