Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham), Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), Rep. Liz Miranda (D-Boston), and Rep. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst) today filed legislation to improve Massachusetts’ COVID-19 vaccination rollout response and increase vaccine delivery in communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill reflects collaboration among the filers, Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), and multiple public health and infectious disease experts.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s weekly state report last Thursday, Black people account for 2.6 percent of those who have received at least one vaccine dose in Massachusetts, while Latinx residents accounted for 3.3 percent. Since March, communities with the highest concentrations of populations of color, people living in overcrowded housing, low-income households, and frontline workers have been disproportionately represented in Massachusetts’ COVID-19 case count. Furthermore, after adjusting for age, Black, Hispanic and Asian residents also experienced much higher COVID death rates throughout the pandemic.
“Even those who are eligible for a COVID vaccine cannot get an appointment unless they have internet and car access, ample time to spare, literacy in specific languages, and technological proficiency,” said Rausch. “This bill significantly strengthens immunization implementation and infrastructure statewide by advancing racial, economic, and regional equity in vaccination access and outreach. We cannot get to the other side of COVID-19 or its many repercussions without addressing systemic injustice in health care delivery and strengthening local community health in every corner of our Commonwealth.”
The legislation requires the Baker administration to take a number of actions to further expand access to vaccination and testing in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including:
1. Appointing a director of COVID-19 vaccination equity and outreach whose sole focus is addressing disparities in vaccination rates rooted in racism, mistrust of government, and disparate access to information and resources.
2. Partnering with trusted local organizations, including local boards of health, for direct outreach campaigns, including through phone calls, text messages, door to door canvassing, and interactive digital events, to deliver information and support relative to the COVID-19 vaccine in the hardest-hit communities.
3. Creating a vaccination vehicle program for mobile vaccination in communities with the highest rates of COVID-19 test positivity.
4. Appointing an expert on vaccine disinformation to the Vaccine Advisory Group.
5. Expanding Stop the Spread testing sites to all gateway cities.
6. Requiring the Executive Branch to make detailed vaccination implementation and equity plans publicly available, as well as provide weekly updates on the status of the rollout.
“There is no just and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic without prioritizing the communities who remain most vulnerable due to historic pre-existing inequities that exist across our safety net,” said Miranda. “This critical legislation aims to bridge the gap between our traditional systems of care and grassroots partners on the ground.”
Massachusetts ranks in the bottom half of the nation in per-capita vaccinations, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and currently lacks a comprehensive plan to deliver vaccines to its communities hardest hit by COVID-19.