Baker prioritizes Chelsea for vaccine outreach to residents

Chelsea will join 19 other cities and towns disproportionately affected by COVID-19 for an effort by Gov. Charlie Baker to deploy targeted outreach to the communities and $1 million to support community health centers in priority vaccination of residents.

The announcement came on Tuesday evening from the Department of Public Health (DPH), and Chelsea was identified with other communities like Everett, Revere, Lynn and Lawrence, among others.

This list of 20 is a subset of the cities and towns that met the Massachusetts COVID Advisory Group recommendation to prioritize communities using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) and COVID-19 case rates since the start of the pandemic. Those communities were then ranked by average daily COVID-19 case rates in each city and town (excluding cases in long-term care and correctional facilities and communities with under 30,000 residents). From this ranked list by case rate, the top 17 cities and towns with the highest percentage of people of color were identified. The list of 20 cities and towns includes three additional communities to capture the top 15 communities with the highest daily COVID case rates.

Chelsea was one of the highest priority cities on that list of 20.

“We recognize the deep knowledge and expertise that exists in every community and our aim is to listen, respond, and work in concert to develop a customized approach for reaching as many residents as we can to increase vaccination,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “This approach is centered on equity, a core pillar of our vaccine distribution. Our goal is to work in collaboration with our local communities, to meet people where they are, and to reduce barriers – both physical and otherwise – to getting the COVID vaccine.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino has said for several months that he believed the state would prioritize Chelsea for vaccine resources and outreach. He said he is glad to see the state focusing on disproportionately impacted communities like Chelsea, and indicated funding resources would likely go to helping East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s COVID vaccine partnership with La Colaborativa and the City.

“I’m pleased that the Administration is focusing on disproportionately impacted communities,” he said. “We are still waiting to see how this will specifically be implemented in Chelsea, and the Administration has indicated more direct engagement will occur in the next week. So far, the Administration has been supportive in ensuring Chelsea can vaccinate those eligible, particularly in supporting East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s efforts. Obviously, as eligibility expands, more state resources will be necessary to ensure Chelsea residents eligible for vaccines have easy access to appointments.”

The Administration has invested $1 million in the MA League of Community Health Centers to support community health center efforts to increase vaccine safety awareness in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with the goal of addressing vaccine hesitancy and increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates for individuals and communities disproportionately impacted.

The program has three main objectives:

•Increase vaccine confidence and knowledge among community engagement staff at health centers.

•Implement dissemination of culturally relevant and linguistically diverse patient education materials.

•Identify and partner with local community-based organizations to provide information and tips to engage people in vaccination conversations.

This grant initiative is a critical piece of the MA League of Community Health Center’s COVID-19 Vaccine Community Engagement Campaign and recognizes that Community Health Centers, community health workers and other community-facing outreach workers are critical and widely trusted individuals to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among the most at-risk communities.  

Under the initiative, qualified health centers may apply for $25,000 grants via the MA League of Community Health Centers to assist Community Health Workers (CHW) to engage patients and community members in vaccination discussions to increase vaccine uptake in the Commonwealth’s hardest-hit communities.

The funding helps health centers in several critical ways, the DPH said, including supporting providers and staff in having one-to-one conversations with patients to answer their questions and concerns, bringing these individualized dialogues to the broader community, and using online and other communication channels and resources. The new DPH initiative will support a tailored community-based approach around the individual needs identified by each municipality. As part of the outreach, a DPH Community Liaison will work to leverage and coordinate state resources and customize a menu of options to be offered to each community, which may include: 

•Identifying gaps and mapping available resources to reduce barriers to vaccination.

•Coordinating and supporting key stakeholders including Local Boards of Health, local Community and Faith-Based Organizations, Community Health Centers, and Community Health Workers who can support grassroots outreach.

•Deploying DPH Vaccine Ambassadors to provide support for town halls and other local forums to share information and materials, including a DPH forum guide and toolkit.

•Disseminating culturally appropriate translations of communications campaign materials, including Trust the Facts. Get the Vax. campaign materials and vaccine FAQs in multiple languages.

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