Black doctors command mass vaccination site
The Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition took over the Reggie Lewis Center mass vaccination site over the weekend, with Black volunteers, doctors and greeters to encourage the community to get vaccinated against the virus. On Feb. 27, legislators of color, including U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and City Council President Kim Janey, gathered at the site to show support for the doctors and raise awareness of the gaps in health care for Black people during the pandemic.
The BBCC was tasked with filling up half the vaccine appointments on their own, after CIC Health took over the site from the city of Boston’s control. In the week before CIC took over, BBCC volunteers secured appointments for almost 800 Black and Latino residents, with the help of Boston Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez, who also spoke at the event about vaccine success.
“Even before the weekend, the city of Boston’s race and ethnicity data shows about 45% of those vaccinated that are Boston residents, are people of color. And that’s much higher than anywhere else in the state,” he said.
The medical site manager, Dr. Ellana Stinson, was responsible for recruiting all of the Black doctors who would oversee the site. She told the Banner that distrust towards the health care system within Black communities is mitigated by making Black doctors more visible.
“We make sure that this site looks like the community and reflects the community that we’re serving. And I think that’s the biggest example. I think that needs to be replicated at other sites and tried, honestly, across the state and country,” she said.
Stinson heard from attendees that the atmosphere felt warm and welcoming, and that they planned to go home and tell their friends and families to come to the Reggie Lewis site.
“We’re very confident that this is going to make an impact and really influence how people start to proceed,” Stinson said.
Volunteers with BBCC provided takeaway food, free transportation through Lyft, COVID-19 care kits with masks and sanitizing wipes, and other services. Organizations like BBCC and CIC Health still need more money to continue providing these services for communities dying at higher rates from the virus. As a member of the Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition, BBCC is petitioning Gov. Charlie Baker for $10 million toward trusted community organizations for more outreach and engagement in communities of color.
State Rep. Russell Holmes spoke at the Reggie Lewis center about the issue of financing targeted pandemic response in Black communities. With all the money being dedicated to the vaccination effort, Holmes reminded legislators to continue following that money and make sure it is getting to those communities.
For instance, last week, Baker announced a $4.7 million vaccine equity initiative, to coordinate with local leaders on vaccine strategy in communities of color.
“Folks who are closest to the change need to be closest to the solution, [and] they need to be paid,” Holmes said of the vaccination site volunteers, “because of the fact that we continue to come into our neighborhoods and [they] expect us to just simply volunteer, while billions of dollars are moving through this process.”
Legislators continued to be openly critical of the state’s vaccine rollout. Pressley has repeatedly called for a better response in Black communities. She spoke at the Reggie Lewis center in support of community activists filling in the gap left by other mass vaccination sites.
“The community has stepped up and has stood in the gap where the government has failed,” Pressley said. “I’m here today because this is emblematic of the best kind of partnership, one that is community-driven and government-endorsed. This work should always be led by and supported by those of us in positions, in our policymaking decisions, and being effective stewards of our platform,” she said.
Pressley closed her remarks by echoing the need for racial data as vaccine rollout continues, as that will help determine how resources are distributed.