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Slowly, Mass. Is Closing The Racial Gap In Vaccination Rates

A woman received a COVID-19 vaccine. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A woman received a COVID-19 vaccine. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Since the approval of the first COVID-19 vaccines, the rate of vaccinations among white residents outstripped vaccinations in communities of color in Massachusetts. That gap remains, but it seems to be closing in recent weeks.

Back in May, only 37% of Black residents and 33% of Hispanic residents had at least one shot compared to 55% of white residents. Today, that near 20-point chasm has shrunk to 14 percentage points. As of Thursday, roughly 50% of both Hispanic and Black residents have received at least one dose, whereas 64% of white residents shared the same security. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that roughly 60% of people getting vaccines in the last 14 days were people of color.

There are two main reasons why that gap is closing, according to Dr. Charles Anderson is the president and CEO of the Dimock Center, a health organization focused on underserved populations. The first is access, which improved after the state switched from mass vaccination sites to community-based settings.

“Access has improved. Part of it was, ‘give it to me where I am used to going,’ ” Anderson said. “Health centers including doses in vans and going out into neighborhoods. It wasn’t just building lots of stuff. It’s an approach to make [the vaccine] more approachable.”

The other thing is that local and national health organizations have worked hard to build trust with communities of color. Anderson believes some people of color didn’t get the vaccine early on partly because many people of color have been wary of healthcare systems. Studies have shown that people of color tend to receive worse treatment in healthcare settings and have their pain and symptoms taken less seriously.

“They can just remember their grandmother saying, ‘don’t trust doctors.’ They just remember stories from their uncle saying, ‘I went to the doctor and it made me worse.’ These stories influence the way you think about something before you see it,” Anderson said. “It got generalized to: this is the way that healthcare systems treat us.”

But organizations like his were persistent in communicating the safety and benefit of the vaccines to communities of color, according to Anderson. Gov. Charlie Baker's administration also put millions of dollars towards health messaging by funding community health organizations like The Latino Health Insurance Program and the Chelsea Black Community.

There’s still a ways to go to close the gap in vaccinations between communities of color and the white community — and in getting the entire state closer to 100% vaccinated. The vaccination rate among white residents has slowed to a crawl, with the percentage of white residents with at least one dose only going from 62% of the community to 64% in the last month.

Baker has tried to boost the flagging vaccination rates by dangling a $1 million lottery prize over Massachusetts’ residents heads. The VaxMillions lottery opened registration last week and will begin drawing winners at the end of the month but, so far, the offer hasn't seen many takers, or increased the vaccination rate.


Angus Chen Reporter, CommonHealth
Angus Chen was a reporter for WBUR's CommonHealth.



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