If Gladys Vega comes knocking anytime soon, it just might be to give you a COVID-19 vaccine – like it or not.
Vega, director of La Colaborativa, joined Manny Lopes of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) and City Manager Tom Ambrosino last Thursday to announce a partnership to vaccinate residents of Chelsea at the Broadway headquarters of La Colaborativa.
Lopes said EBNHC had requested 4,000 doses from Gov. Charlie Baker, and he sent them exactly what they asked for, which allowed them to move out quickly into the communities they serve to stand up vaccine clinics – now only for that 75 and older but eventually for others as the state approves more groups.
EBNHC stood up four sites in two days, and decided to partner with La Colaborativa in Chelsea to help ease any skepticism people might have about the vaccine.
“Today, more than 100 people from Chelsea will be able to get the vaccine,” said Lopes. “We’ll be able to ramp up to 500 a day at this space alone…We’ll look at increasing the hours and staff as long as there is demand.”
He said when they got the vaccine they really wanted to focus on Chelsea as one of their four sites, but they also wanted to partner with someone that was trusted in the community – as there is a great deal of skepticism in Chelsea about the vaccine right now. Finding a trusted face who has served tirelessly during the pandemic was critical, he said.
“This is an example of how we address these issues with our partners and Gladys and her team has trust in the community when it comes to social justice and health care,” he said. “We will be messaging this early and messaging this often.”
Lopes said they will bring the pull of the health center with them to La Colaborativa, but they will also bring the knowledge that they’ve learned from vaccinating their staff. More than 75 percent of their staff in multiple locations have now been vaccinated, and more than 50 percent of that staff lives in Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop.
Right now, the aim is to keep the site reserved mostly for Chelsea residents, and in that spirit they have kept the site off the state website – though it is and has to be open to everyone in the state.
Vega said now she and her staff are going to be hitting the community hard with a message to get vaccinated, and that will include door-knocking and information sharing at all of their service locations.
“When we have a community that is fully vaccinated, that’s when we can celebrate,” she said. “This is the beginning today…When we decided to do this as an organization, it became our responsibility to make this our project. We lost so many people and Chelsea was the epicenter. We lost so many people because they lived in crowded conditions and the cost of living is so high in Boston. We had to double up and triple up in housing situations. That what caused this to spread. We can’t go back.”
She said if they have to go knock on doors, convince people on their doorsteps and drive them to get the vaccine, they will.
“That’s what we do,” she said.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said when the partnership was forming, the City wanted to locate the clinic somewhere well-known and in the heart of the city. They didn’t want to put it out on Everett Avenue or further up Broadway.
“We’re opening this facility in the heart of downtown Chelsea,” he said. “It’s convenient for our residents. What’s also important is it’s being hosted by trusted partners in the community of Chelsea. These are organizations people know. There is skepticism out there and hesitancy for this vaccine. Our goal is to vaccinate as many resident as quickly as possible.”
Shortly after the rollout of the program, the first person to get vaccinated at the Colaborativa site was Ramelo Frometa. In about 10 minutes, he got the shot with very little problems.
“Hallelujah,” he said, raising his arms to the sky and thanking God, after getting the shot.