Reggie Lewis Center’s minority outreach is model to be ‘replicated,’ Black and Hispanic leaders say

The coronavirus vaccination site at Roxbury’s Reggie Lewis Center has a Black medical site manager. Half the site’s appointments are being set aside for local residents. And efforts by Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition volunteers booked nearly 800 Black and Latino residents for shots during the first few days of CIC Health taking over operations from the city this week.

It’s a model leaders want to see “replicated” amid a rollout that’s seen disproportionately low rates of vaccines go into the arms of Black and Hispanic people.

“Those who are hardest hit by this pandemic have to be front and center when it comes to making sure they have the treatment needed,” City Council President and Acting-Mayor-in-waiting Kim Janey — who will be the city’s first Black chief executive — said. “Not just equitable access to the vaccine, they’ve got to have confidence and trust. That happens when they walk through the door and they see people like them, who have been through similar situations.”

Community partnerships, trusted faces and multilingual awareness efforts are all part of the effort to improve vaccine access for communities of color that’s front and center as CIC Health takes over operations at the Reggie Lewis Center from the city and expands the local site to a mass vaccination center.

“Our objective is to make sure that we get as many people within this Roxbury community vaccinated as possible,” lead operations manager Tiffany Martin said. “We want to do it safely. We want to do it effectively.”

CIC Health, which also runs operations at mass vaccination centers at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, is aiming to administer 800 vaccines per day at the Reggie Lewis Center to start, with plans to ramp up to 2,500.

Former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a member of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, said upwards of 250 people being registered per day for the site are people of color, in part due to phone banking and canvassing.

“We’re going that extra step,” Dr. Ellana Stinson, the medical site manager, said. “When you have a community with unique needs, you have to meet them where they are”

CIC Health is taking the baton from the city, which has been running operations at the Reggie Lewis Center since the beginning of February. In that time, the city vaccinated 4,000 people, 50% of which were Boston residents and 45% of which were people of color, with residents of Roxbury making up the single largest neighborhood of origin, the city said.

“That’s much higher than anywhere else in the state,” Boston health chief Marty Martinez said at Saturday’s event. “We’re creating access here.”

Statewide, Black residents account for 5.1% of those who have received at least one vaccine dose, and 5.6% of those who are fully vaccinated. Hispanic residents account for 4.3% and 4%, respectively. White residents account for 68.1% of those who have received at least one dose, and 64.8% of those who are fully vaccinated, according to weekly state Department of Public Health data last updated on Thursday.

State Rep. Liz Miranda, who along with three of her colleagues filed a bill calling on the state to create an equity czar for the vaccine rollout and launch more multilingual awareness efforts, said “this is an opportunity for us to make the Reggie Lewis Center one of the greatest vaccination sites so this can be replicated across the commonwealth.”

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, speaking on Saturday at both the Reggie Lewis Center and the Chelsea vaccination site run in partnership between La Colaborativa and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, said more data on race and ethnicity is needed to see where gaps are not just in vaccinations but in federal resources.

Pressley said the “federal government has failed to meet the scale and scope of this crisis” and that community groups have “stepped up and stood in the gap where government has failed.”

Efforts by staff and volunteers at both the Reggie Lewis Center and La Colaborativa to sign locals up for shots and combat vaccine hesitancy through community outreach and door-knocking “is a model to be replicated,” Pressley said.

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