2 undocumented immigrants denied vaccine in California, prompting concern in MA

BOSTON — “I lifted a weight off my shoulder when I got vaccinated, and that’s what I want my community members to feel,” said Gladys Vega of Chelsea-based La Colaborativa.

News of two undocumented immigrants denied the COVID-19 vaccine at Rite Aid locations in southern California has Massachusetts immigration advocates concerned it may have a cooling effect on vaccine rollout efforts in Latinx and immigrant communities.

Vega said they’re going door-to-door with doctors to address vaccine hesitancy in Chelsea, the hardest-hit community in the state.

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“I would never want no one in Massachusetts to go through what we went through. The severity of the cases, the people being in the hospital, the lives that we lost,” Vega said.

Rite Aid has about 58 stores in Massachusetts and said they’ve administered hundreds of thousands of vaccines without issue. They’ve issued an apology, but for immigrants, simply being turned away is the least of their worries.

Eva Milona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Association said many immigrants are more concerned ICE may be lying in wait at vaccination sites.

“Immigration status is not an issue. People don’t have to show an ID. They don’t have to have health insurance to receive the vaccine. Social Security number or a driver’s license, it’s completely irrelevant; so, we want to encourage everyone who is eligible for a vaccine to get one,” Milona said.

State and federal guidelines are clear: vaccines are free to all, including the undocumented. But vaccine equity remains an issue. Milona points to Lawrence where 80% of the population is Latinx , but only 2% of them have been vaccinated.

The Baker administration has promised to earmark 20% of all vaccines supplied to the Bay State to communities of color.

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“I do want to say we remain concerned about the 20%. Where that is going, how that’s going to be distributed, how the funds – the 4 million that has been allocated – will go to the community-based organizations,” Milona said.

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