Massachusetts is a leader in vaccinating Black residents, but advocates say stats belie equity ‘problem’

Massachusetts is outperforming most other states when it comes to getting shots into the arms of Black residents, reports show, but equity advocates say statistics don’t tell the whole story.

During Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest public appearance at a vaccine clinic in Lawrence last Thursday he said, “The Commonwealth currently ranks second for the percentage of Black residents who have received at least one dose.”

Statistics like these have become familiar refrains in the governor’s press conferences as he touts progress in the state’s much-criticized vaccine rollout.

Reports on racial disparities in vaccine distribution by Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times show Massachusetts is vaccinating more Black residents as a percentage of the vaccinated population than nearly every state in the union, with the exception of several small, rural states.

But state Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Mattapan, said “the stats don’t match with what people feel on the ground.”

State data reveals 5% of people who have received their first shot are Black, fewer than 4.5% are Latino, just over 4% are Asian and 70% are white. Racial data is incomplete for about 15% of cases.

Carlene Pavlos of Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition says the numbers are clear: “We have a problem here.”

Throughout the pandemic, Black people have accounted for 10% of all hospitalizations due to COVID-19, according to state health data. Latino residents have accounted for 15% and 53% of COVID-19 patients were white.

“These are the communities that have suffered greater impact and greater burden from the disease and who have less access to the vaccine,” Pavlos said. “That is a classic definition of inequity. While the Baker administration may be satisfied that Massachusetts has improved in the vaccine rollout …  we’re not satisfied with this inequity.”

A spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center said Baker’s decision to prioritize vulnerable groups early in the rollout “ensured equity remained at the helm of our vaccine rollout.”

Per capita, 13.9% of Massachusetts’ Black residents and 7.5% of its Hispanic residents have received a first dose, compared to 5.2% and 4.5% nationally, she pointed out.

Holmes said the governor “needs to do more” to get vaccines into the arms of people of color, and said the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus has called on the governor to activate mobile clinics similar to those the National Guard rolled out to long-term care centers earlier this year.

Pavlos’ coalition has outlined a list of five demands, including hiring an equity czar and targeting distribution through local health departments and community health clinics, which she said “know what is needed for outreach and engagement.”

The Baker administration has refocused distribution efforts through local channels in recent weeks following a backlash when local boards of health were cut off from supply and mass vaccination sites were prioritized.

Holmes joined Baker during a press conference at Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan last Monday, which he called “a model” for improving access in communities of color.

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