Looking up at the massive chandelier above him in the main ballroom of Encore Boston Harbor, Gov. Charlie Baker last Wednesday, May 5, proclaimed the state’s newest mass vaccination site as the most opulent place to get a COVID shot in the state.
“A tip of the hat to Brian Gullbrants (Encore President) and Encore for providing us what is by far the most over the top beautiful vaccine site we’ve got,” said the governor at the start of his media briefing.
The new site is hosted by Encore and the City of Everett, administered by the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) and supplied by the Commonwealth. Assaad Sayah, MD, CEO of CHA, said the site is one of three new sites serving nine cities in what is the Metro North COVID Vaccination Partnership. While the City will continue to administer its own vaccine clinic at the former Pope John High School, the Encore site if meant to supplement that effort in a larger and flashier setting – while also looking to reach more employees and guests at the casino.
Sayah said the effort falls in line with what the state is trying to do in penetrating into communities where vaccine access and hesitancy is greater.
“This is an excellent opportunity to advance accces to the vaccine for COVID-19 here and around the surrounding communities, which we know were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic,” he said. “This is aligned to help the state’s efforts…and reduce travel, increase language access and help mobility.”
The other two vaccination sites are in Medford at Tufts, and at at 176 Somerville Ave. in Somerville.
Gov. Baker gave an overall view of vaccination efforts across the Commonwealth in his briefing, noting that the national goal of having more than 70 percent of the country with one dose of vaccine by July 4 has already happened in Massachusetts.
“We’ve already surpassed that milestone,” he said. “We’ve also been extremely successful for people returning for a second dose. Here, 99 percent of those that get a first dose return for a second dose.”
He said the most intriguing part of that statistic is that it has ensured the most elderly and vulnerable in the state are now protected and not dying or being hospitalized.
“The most senior among us are no longer the folks that are being counted in our case counts, ending up being hospitalized or fighting for their lives in the most part,” he said. “It’s been an extraordinary process to watch play out in real time as a real-life demonstration here in the Commonwealth.”
Gov. Baker also reiterated his commitment from last week to double the among of vaccine coming to the 20 most disproportionately affected communities, which includes Everett, Chelsea and Revere. That meant CHA was going to be getting 5,850 COVID-19 vaccine doses for its efforts weekly – something that started last week.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the next phase in the vaccination campaign is allowing walk-up vaccinations at the sites so there are no appointments necessary, but more importantly, getting out into the community to knock on doors in a grass-roots effort.
Everett has a direct community liaison at the Department of Public Health (DPH), she said, and now has teams of trained canvassers who are going out and knocking on doors in Everett and hosting events to promote vaccination – and to make appointments and secure transportation, if needed.
“Everett has a trained team of 15 people that rea able to help facilitate vaccine appointments and are out knocking on doors…through one-to-one conversations,” she said. “The community teams have knocked on 3,000 doors and made more than 2,000 phone calls to Everett residents alone encouraging them to get the vaccine. They’ve hosted 16 visibility events and handed out more than 2,000 fliers. This is just like political canvassing except it’s vaccination canvassing.”
In addition, she said $450,000 had been awarded to local organizations to help organize around those who are hesitant to get the vaccine or just cannot access it. Those organizations include the Everett Haitian Community Center, Mass Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, Somali Parents, International Institute and LUMA.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he was glad to see the governor in Everett.
“It was a pleasure to welcome the Baker Administration to Everett for a visit of the State’s newest vaccination site at Encore Boston Harbor,” he said. “This clinic received over 700 walk-ins on their opening day. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of Cambridge Health Alliance who have assisting our community in getting vaccinated. The governor’s recognition of their work and this site will continue to push how important getting vaccinated is during these unprecedented times.”
Those in attendance locally included Mayor DeMaria, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and State Rep. Joe McGonagle. There was some controversy locally from some city councilors who felt they also should have been invited or alerted to the governor’s tour of Encore.
Councilor Stephanie Martins said it should have been common courtesy to notify all elected officials that the governor was going to have the event on May 5.
“Pro tip for Charlie Baker’s office: when making your announcement from a municipality, it is always great to extend the notice and invitation to the City Council. Welcome to Everett,” she wrote on her social media page.