Cape leaders make case to expand vaccine equity campaign

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Cape Cod remains on track to meet its goal of having 75 percent of the region’s population vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the summer season, but breakdowns by racial and ethnic groups show a “significant gap” among different demographics, Sen. Julian Cyr said Thursday.

On a call with other members of Cape Cod’s COVID-19 response task force, Cyr said 62 percent of white Cape Codders had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 37 percent of the region’s Black residents, 53 percent of its Hispanic residents, 51 percent of its Asian residents and 15 percent of its Native American residents. “This is unacceptable, and we must do a better job reaching out to communities to ensure that they have easy access to vaccines and increase the trust in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” the Truro Democrat said.

Overall, 66 percent of Barnstable County residents, or more than 215,000 people, had received at least a first vaccine dose as of last week, state data show. New numbers are set to be released later Thursday.

Cyr noted that gaps exist statewide and are not a problem unique to the region. Department of Public Health data from May 4, the most recent available, show that about 55 percent of white Massachusetts residents, 33 percent of Hispanic residents, 37 percent of Black residents, 53 percent of Asian residents and 34 percent of Native American residents have received at least a first dose.

An ongoing state Vaccine Equity Initiative aims to increase access and awareness in 20 diverse communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19 — Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield and Worcester.

In late April, the Baker administration announced $8.8 million in grants and contracts to community- and faith-based organizations in those 20 municipalities, focused on addressing “the specific needs of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other communities of color,” with services “delivered by bilingual and bicultural staff and community health workers.” None of the 20 communities served by the equity initiative are on Cape Cod, Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, and Cyr said he believes it “may be a good use of dollars” to expand the program to other parts of Massachusetts.

He said Cape officials are “trying to do everything we can” on the vaccine equity front, including several weeks of work to reach the mid-Cape’s Brazilian community, but also thinks “we need more resources from the state.”

“I have long been a proponent and was glad to see the effort underway in 20 gateway cities around reaching communities of color, but we have residents of color in every corner of the commonwealth, and I worry that we’re just not going to have the language skills, the cultural competency and other resources to reach folks,” he said.

Sean O’Brien, of the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment, said that officials are “looking at different options that may be there” to ensure the vaccine is “as available as it can be,” including working with churches and exploring potential opportunities with business centers.

On the heels of federal regulators signing off Wednesday on the use of the Pfizer vaccine in youth aged 12 to 15, O’Brien said Cape officials are also talking to school departments and working on plans for “getting vaccinations into the school system.”

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