The COVID-19 vaccine is now readily available to all age 12 and older in MetroWest. The vast majority of those eligible (84% in Middlesex County) have received at least one vaccine dose. This is above the state average and well above the national average. Public health and community leaders have been working hard to get the word out that the vaccine is safe and the most effective way to protect individuals and the community from the worst impact of COVID. They have listened to community concerns, calmly refuted misinformation and done so in multiple languages in familiar places. It is clear that the message matters, but the messenger may matter even more.
The initial phase of the vaccine roll-out was about prioritizing groups based of the level of exposure to the virus or vulnerability to the worst outcomes. Many spent countless hours online finding appointments for themselves, loved ones and sometimes those they never met. When vaccine availability was no longer an issue, the conversation shifted to creating access for those who wanted to get vaccinated but had difficulty taking time off work, finding childcare or transportation to a vaccine site. Neighborhood vaccine sites popped up in places like the EMK Community Health Center, local public health clinics, places of worship and nonprofit agencies. This led to high overall vaccination rates. Even as the Delta variant causes COVID-19 cases rates to increase, they remain significantly lower than last winter before vaccinations were available.
As the start of the school year approaches, vaccination rates among teenagers becomes increasingly important. Like with adults, the region is a success story when it comes to vaccinating youth - 75% of those ages 12–15 and 74% of those ages 16-19 in Middlesex County have received at least one dose as of August 10th. This is well above the national rate for these age groups, yet there is still work to be done.
The push to vaccinate remaining eligible MetroWest residents will be the toughest. Those who remain hesitant have varied reasons for waiting on the vaccine. Trusted leaders, family and friends, who been among the most effective communicators when it comes to vaccines, are the key to reaching those still waiting. Leaders who have spent years working in partnership with community residents, many who are community residents themselves, are in the best position to address concerns and ensure continued access. Vaccine equity does not just mean providing access to shots and information in native languages. It also means having trusted and informed community leaders available to answer questions and offer support to those on the fence.
We are all ready for life to return to the pre-pandemic days when simple decisions about where to go and with whom did not involve complicated risk-benefit calculations. Vaccinations remain the most effective way to get us back. The higher the community vaccination rates- the safer our communities become for everyone.
For information on COVID-19 vaccines and where you can get one, go to
COVID-19 vaccination locations | Mass.gov.
For more Equity Matters, visit Foundation Publications.
 Massachusetts Department of Public Health: https://www.mass.gov/doc/weekl...