Communities of color question qualifying conditions for the COVID-19 vaccine

CHELSEA, Mass. — Less than a week after residents celebrated the opening of a new vaccination site in Chelsea, local leadership was shocked to learn asthma was left off the state’s list for qualifying conditions to get the vaccine.

”There just seems to be a real disconnect between the reality of who’s most affected and the service that we’re willing to provide,” says City Councilor Damali Vidot.

Vidot said it’s another barrier to access to communities of color like Chelsea, once the epicenter for the virus in the state.

“Even on the state’s website, it says that asthma is prevalent in the state, but that it is more common among Black folks and the Latino community. When you look overall who has been prioritized in terms of the vaccination sites, the governor set the age at 75 and up. And I wonder how many people in these hot spot communities who are people of color even live that long?“

In a 2015 state study, Chelsea had a high rate of respiratory illness, and in 2019, Springfield -- another urban center -- was named the nation’s asthma capitol by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation. In both studies, Black and Latinx residents were shown to be the most affected.

The Baker administration is basing their decision on recommendations from the CDC including their list of underlying health conditions for adults “at risk”: obesity, smoking, cancer and heart conditions take priority over adults the CDC deems “might be at risk,” including people with cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure and moderate or severe asthma.

At a news conference Friday, Baker said the administration is hesitant to move on beyond the current guidelines of eligibility.

”I would say that will move when we get to the point where we think we’ve done a pretty good job with the communities that are currently eligible and then we’ll move but I you know I want to make sure we give these communities. Part of the reason these communities were early was because they’re vulnerable and at risk.“

Moderate or severe asthma will soon be a qualifying condition in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced it’s on the list of co-morbidities for the vaccine rollout beginning February 15.

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