Policy Issue

Policy Watch: The Importance of Equity in the Distribution of COVID 19 Vaccines

March 15, 2021

COVID 19 has disproportionally impacted low-income communities of color, including those here in MetroWest. A recent report by the Framingham Health Department showed that the city’s Hispanic population, estimated to be 17% of the city’s total population, represented 42% of COVID-19 positive cases in the city. An analysis of racial and ethnic disparities in COVID case incidence by the Centers for Disease Control found that racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented in essential work settings, making it difficult for them to stay at home, and have a higher likelihood of living in a multigenerational household which also increases the risk for household exposures to COVID.

Throughout this pandemic, public health and community leaders have consistently advocated for an equitable response to COVID19, including in the distribution of vaccines. Yet, disparities remain - the latest weekly vaccination report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows that of those who have received at least one dose, 10% were Black or Hispanic, while these groups make up 19% of the state's population.

There are many reasons why we see a lack of equity in vaccination rates. For example, the 'chilling effect' of the Trump-era public charge rule has caused reluctance among some communities to engage with medical services due to fears that it will impact their immigration status. Other reasons for hesitancy were covered in our December 2020 Policy Watch found here.

Accessing appointments at the state’s mass vaccination sites has also been troubling due to limited supply and website issues. But it is also important to remember that by their very nature, these sites require access to the internet, transportation, and time to devote to finding and getting to an appointment. These attributes may not exist in every household in need of a vaccine.

In late February, the state committed $4.7 million to address vaccine equity. This initiative is targeting the 20 hardest-hit municipalities, including Framingham, and is focused on historically underserved populations. Recognizing the need for trusted messengers, the state has partnered with Health Care for All and Archipelago Strategies Group to engage in on-the-ground communications about vaccine safety. As supply increases, plans are also being made to bring vaccines to underserved neighborhoods.

For more information about the state's Vaccine Equity Initiative, click here.

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