While nearly half of the City’s population has received a COVID-19 vaccination, the numbers for Black residents, in particular, is far lower than the percentage of the population they make up, according to state data released on May 27, putting Vaccine Equity in the forefront of new strategies to continue the vaccination efforts.
Numbers for Everett showed that white and Asian residents are at or exceeding their percentage of the population within the vaccine numbers, while Black residents are far below their percentage and Hispanic residents are also below their percentages of the population.
That is contrasted with nearby communities like Chelsea, Revere and East Boston where the numbers of vaccinated Hispanic and Black residents, in particular, are far higher proportionally – and in fact – are some of the highest numbers in the state according to East Boston Neighborhood Health Center CEO Manny Lopes.
The percentage of the population in Everett that is Black is 23 percent, but the numbers of Black residents that have been vaccinated fully or with one dose is 10 percent. Similarly, Hispanic residents make up 33 percent of the population in Everett, but the vaccination numbers for them are around 22 percent.
Meanwhile, white residents make up 38 percent of the population, but are vaccinated at a rate of around 40 percent. Asian residents make up 6 percent of the population and are vaccinated at a rate of about 8 percent.
In neighboring Chelsea, which has one of the highest Hispanic populations in the state at 68 percent of the population, that City and its partners like EBNHC have vaccinated 51 percent of that population. In Revere, the Hispanic population makes up 41 percent, and around 35 percent of that population is vaccinated. The Black population in Chelsea is much smaller than Everett, at 9 percent, and has about 6 percent vaccinated. It’s a similar story in Revere with Blacks at 6 percent of the population and being vaccinated at a rate of 4 percent.
Those are numbers that EBNHC CEO Lopes said are some of the highest in the state, and largely due to the unique work they have been doing in tandem with those municipalities and the community groups in those cities.
The City of Everett has had a far-reaching vaccine clinic it set up with its Board of Health, being one of the only cities in the state to stand up its own free-standing vaccination clinic. The clinic vaccinated more than 10,000 people in a weekly effort at the former Pope John High School – with appointments available by calling 3-1-1. That strategy is now winding down to take on a more mobile role.
“Since March, the City of Everett has vaccinated approximately 10,000 individuals through our weekly vaccination clinic at Pope John,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “Additionally, the Everett Board of Health continues to provide vaccine clinics onsite at Everett Housing Authority sites. Those unable to make our weekend clinics can always call 3-1-1 to schedule an appointment during City Hall business hours. Recently, the City has partnered with the Department of Public Health and ASG Communications for more direct communication with residents regarding the facts and myths of the vaccine. Through this partnership we are making direct contact with residents who may not have been vaccinated. I look forward to continuing to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
Last week, the City announced it was pivoting in that effort as the clinic has slowed down. They have now started moving to pop-up clinics at places like parks and food pantries. This Saturday, June 5, will be the last day at the Pope John vaccine clinic, and on that same day, a pop-up vaccine clinic will begin in Glendale Park.
That’s something Rev. Myrlande DesRosiers of the Everett Haitian Community Center (EHCC) has been calling to implement for some time, as part of a Vaccine Equity and Training Grant EHCC has received from Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) for the region’s non-English speaking minority groups. That grant covers efforts in Everett and five other communities and partners with other organizations to provide education and access to the vaccine in Portuguese, Spanish and Haitian Kreyol.
The issue in Everett, she said, is battling spiritual beliefs, cultural beliefs, historic mistrust, and inconvenient access points for these communities.
“It’s a mixture,” she said. “It’s bits and pieces of all these things. It’s the particular population, it’s access and the question of enrollment for appointments at the beginning. We have had to battle the fear and they were based sometimes in cultural beliefs and spiritual beliefs and it was also about convenient access and those who were just not comfortable taking it.”
One of the questions often presented to her dealt with mistrust, and the kind of vaccine offered in Everett. That historic mistrust of medical institutions played a part in the low numbers, she said – especially when people didn’t get to choose which vaccine they wanted of the three offered. Many Haitians, she said, work in the medical field and saw one vaccine given to nursing home residents in wealthy communities where they work, but in Everett they saw a different vaccine being given.
“Many people thought the vaccine given to Black people or Haitian people was the bad vaccine,” she said. “There was this belief and some thought the best vaccine maybe was being given and reserved for white people. They thought the Johnson & Johnson was being reserved for the Black or immigrant community. People questioned that. They wanted to know why they couldn’t choose. That began all kinds of conspiracy theories and a lot of that comes from how it is distributed. We’ve made a lot of progress on that with education, but it lingers.”
A second issue, she said, was the access provided – especially in the Haitian community, which has the lowest rate of vaccination right now along with Spanish-speaking and Arabic-speaking communities. While some Haitians work in other industries, most Haitian residents she said work in the medical field or at nursing homes – many at multiple jobs – and keep far different hours than the rest of the City’s residents. Because many also take the bus, she said she has suggested that pop-up clinics be offered at busy bus stops very early in the morning or late at night, when most of the population is going or coming from work – with their schedules usually being from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and/or 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“You need to have someone stationed two hours before 7 a.m. to get them so that it coincides with their schedule, say maybe at a bus stop even or very near a bus stop,” she said. “If you don’t have stations that are open two hours before 7 a.m. you aren’t going to get that population…These are the conversations we need to have that are real.”
EBNHC CEO Lopes and COO Greg Wilmot said their efforts in Chelsea, East Boston and Revere are being lauded by the state, but they said it’s nothing they did on their own. In Chelsea, they turned to places like La Colaborativa – a trusted human services provider – to provide a space for the vaccinations in its offices and to assist in canvassing the neighborhoods to knock on doors and promote vaccination as early as last February. That work, Wilmot said, was learned when EBNHC began testing sites in the region and at Suffolk Downs. Quickly, they said, they learned they needed to partner closely and collaboratively with trusted members of immigrant communities that understood the barriers and spoke the appropriate languages.
“Our role as a health care provider is to relay accurate information to these communities so they can thrive,” said Wilmot. “It’s not new, but it’s that the stakes are so high that the effects are felt disproportionately. It has helped us broker new relationships and show how important it is to have trusted relationships with trusted community partners. It has been so important.”
Said Lopes, “Equity has been top of the list always, but as the pandemic unfolded it just highlighted how important that health care is in providing access and equity. When we and our partners have this conversation with the community, we’re in a position to follow with the vaccine right behind them. If we don’t have convenient access, it’s hard for someone to turn that knowledge into an action. Having these community partners has helped us to do just that.”
Having been offering pop-ups in their communities over the last several months, and canvassing the neighborhoods with partners, Lopes and Wilmot said they are now also moving towards offering the vaccine with primary care doctors.
“We thought it was important that during a regular visit with your doctor, you could ask these nuanced questions in the exam room,” he said. “We are now offering vaccines as part of a Primary Care visit so they can have that higher-thinking experience with their doctor. That’s making a difference now too.”