Mass. Lawmakers Push for Racial Justice in COVID Vaccine Distribution – NBC
Lawmakers in Massachusetts participated in a virtual discussion Saturday that focused on racial disparities with COVID-19 vaccination efforts across the country.
Sen. Ed Markey hosted the roundtable and was joined by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, State Rep. Nika Elugardo, and other local leaders.
Markey said these are the leaders who have been advocating for equity and accessibility “at the top of their lungs to ensure this is done correctly.”
Last month, Pressley, Warren and Markey called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging health officials to work with the relevant federal agencies to monitor and address racial, ethnic and other demographic disparities in the national COVID-19 vaccination deployment strategy.
“Even though Black and Hispanic residents have borne the brunt of this pandemic here in Massachusetts and all across the country, these communities are not receiving the vaccine in proportion to their share of their population,” Markey said Saturday.
The federal government blamed the delays on winter weather and staffing shortages. In Framingham, Saturday’s coronavirus clinic was postponed two weeks, before the state announced more than 135,000 doses had arrived three days earlier than expected.
As of Friday, more than 1 million coronavirus vaccines have been administered in Massachusetts, Markey said — 976,000 first doses and 357,000 second doses.
According to Markey, state data shows white residents have received 13x more first doses than Black residents and 16x more than Latinx residents. All the while, the COVID case rate is more than 3x higher for the Latino population, and nearly 2x for Black residents than for white residents, Markey said.
“We cannot turn our backs on these communities that continue to shoulder the burden of this pandemic,” Markey said.
Markey says this means we first have to focus our distribution efforts on location to ensure ample and accessible resources and vaccination sites to underserved and communities of color.
Secondly, he said, we have to build trust between the vaccine and these communities which have faced decades of health care racism. This is done by getting the message out about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, Markey said.
Third, Markey said, we have to ensure language access in our public education efforts at our vaccination sites and in the appointment process. And finally, according to Markey, we have to ensure these communities have access to the internet and devices to be able to log on and book vaccination appointments.
Municipal leaders, first responders and public health officials are voicing concerns over the state’s latest change in the vaccine distribution rollout that prioritizes mass vaccination sites over local clinics.
“The digital divide has become a vaccine divide and we must bridge it immediately,” he said.
Lawmakers say underserved communities need all the resources they can get, which includes the internet.
Markey said racial justice has to be our number one priority as we combat the ongoing pandemic — which includes vaccine distribution. Racial justice encompasses health care justice, environmental justice and economic justice, Markey said.
“Communities of color continue to suffer from the worst impacts of this health crisis. They were the first to get the virus, the first to stay on the job, the first to die, but last to get the relief and the care they need during this crisis,” Markey said.
Warren agreed with Markey on what she called “a blunt fact.”
“Black and Brown and Native communities have been hardest hit by COVID-19, they had the most trouble getting testing initially, they’ve had higher rates of contracting COVID, higher death rates, and greater vulnerability,” Warren said. “And now with the vaccines, evidence is mounting that these communities are having the most difficulty in getting vaccine distributions and equitable…