When word went out that the Brazilian Worker Center in Allston was offering COVID-19 vaccines to the local community, 800 people called in hopes of getting one. But there were only 200 vaccine doses available.
The Roxbury-based Whittier Street Health Center set up the pop-up clinic with the goal of getting vaccines to people in this immigrant community, who are often considered "vaccine hesistant." In reality, advocates said the high level of interest indicates people here want the vaccines but often don't have the time or means to get to a vaccine clinic.
“There’s language barrier, the cultural barrier, there's driving barriers,” said Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center. “Sometimes people are afraid they're going to ask for documentation. There's so many barriers that, you know, the average person doesn't think about.”
Whittier Street’s mobile vaccine clinics are now running in other neighborhood centers, churches and affordable housing complexes around Boston to reach Black, Latino and Asian communities and other communities of color. They aim to reduce racial inequities in the state’s vaccine distribution.
Tracy said many of the people showing up for vaccines live in the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and have housing with little room to isolate, yet many never stopped working.
“They are domestic workers," Tracy said. "They clean the homes. They take care of the elderly. They work in the supermarket. They work in restaurants. They’re general workers. They work in construction. They work on landscape.”
Construction worker Valdete Andrade had worried about being exposed to the virus on the job and bringing it home to his daughter, who has bronchitis. But he was also uncertain about where he could get the vaccine. He was relieved to be able to get it at the Brazilian Worker Center.
"I wasn't afraid of the vaccine," he said in Portuguese. "I was worried about being able to get it in order to protect my family and others."
A recent analysis ofracial disparities from KFF, formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that in Massachusetts white people are being vaccinated for COVID-19 at one and a half times the rate of Black and Asian people and two and a half times the rate of Hispanic people.
“One of the biggest things in … meeting people where they are is making sure that these vaccine clinics are as widely located as possible and are also making a conscious effort at being visible in hard to reach places and among vulnerable populations," said Nambi Ndugga, racial equity and health policy analyst at KFF.
Making the vaccine more readily available to underserved populations, she said, has also helped reduce vaccine hesitancy, which she said goes “hand in hand” with lack of access.
“I think in places where there is low access to vaccines, there's also a likelihood of low information about vaccinations because there aren't as many health care providers," Ndugga said. "There aren't as many health care locations for people to get that information from."
Pop-up clinics will also speed up the vaccination process and ultimately help everyone, said Yusufi Vali, director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement in Boston.
“People of color, particularly immigrant communities and African American communities — if you look at the numbers, they’re still not getting access [the vaccines] quick enough,” Vali said. “And they're not getting vaccinated at the same rates as our white population. And so that just tells us that there is a greater need to set them up throughout different communities.”
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