Lawmakers file bill addressing disparities in access to COVID-19 vaccine

BOSTON — As COVID-19 cases reach the half a million mark in Massachusetts, racial and economic disparities in the state’s vaccine rollout are drawing sharp criticism from Beacon Hill.

”This process has not only been inequitable, but it’s been racist,” said State Representative Liz Miranda.

State health data shows a third of the residents who’ve received a vaccine so far have been white, 3% or less have been Black and Latinx.

House and Senate bills filed Thursday would include: the creation of a mobile vaccination program, expand free, no-appointment testing to gateway cities, create a multilingual mass media campaign, and mandate the appointment of an equity & access director.

“We have to be really intentional about overcoming those gaps and it is going to involve some of those difficult conversations,” said Senator Sonia Chang Diaz.

None of the state’s initial mass vaccination sites sat in the state’s minority communities and the lawmakers have received complaints the Reggie Lewis Center site in Roxbury has drawn predominantly white patients.

Representative Miranda, who lost her grandmother to COVID, told Boston 25 it was the same at a vaccination site opened in the First Parish Church in Dorchester run by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“The 100 vaccines a day were not the people that live in the poorest census block in the Commonwealth, which is the Bowdoin Geneva Corridor. How does that happen?“ said Miranda.

Friday, Governor Baker announced the state would be launching a multi-language TV campaign aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy in communities of color and said the state would be working with community health centers to expand vaccine access.

“This campaign is a crucial part of our work to ensure equity in the vaccine distribution process,” said Baker.

”People want the vaccine, the majority of our community,” said Miranda on the narrative around hesitancy in communities of color. “But we cannot force a vaccine on a community that is saying we didn’t get here by chance. We got here by design. And therefore if you want us to do this vaccine that there are barriers you’re continuously putting ahead of us.“

Miranda says language barriers play a key role in hesitancy as well. The proposed legislation would also mandate the appointment of an expert on vaccine disinformation to the state’s Vaccine Advisory Group.

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