DA Rollins visits vaccine site, having helped distribute food there last year

DA Rachael Rollins made a return to La Colaborativa on Monday afternoon, but this time instead of helping to distribute critical food stuffs, she was the latest public official to get a look at the Colaborativa/East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) COVID vaccine site.

The vaccine site has been open since Feb. 4 under the cooperation of the two organizations and the City of Chelsea, and it has been a very popular site for visits with guests like Senator Liz Warren, AG Maura Healey, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and now DA Rollins.

La Colaborativa Director Gladys Vega said there was a unique and special bond between the organization and Rollins – as she and her staff did double duty last spring and summer in coming from the Chelsea Court to help with food distribution regularly.

“You guys will forever have a special place in our hearts,” said Vega. “I have known many DAs in my long career here, but no DA has ever made their staff available to serve our community like you did. We had seven to 10 people here per week. Your staff risked their lives for the lives of our people. It will not be forgotten.”

Following that heartfelt welcome, EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes directed Rollins through the facility. He noted that since opening they have given more than 6,000 vaccinations at all four of their sites, and more than 1,500 vaccinations just at the Chelsea site.

Part of Rollins’s visit was to find out more about vaccine skepticism and what is being done to overcome that in Chelsea – as well as to learn how her office can support the housing issues creeping up in the city.

Vega said they are focusing on direct action to get people vaccinated, which includes using volunteers to go door-to-door. 

Last weekend, they utilized 27 doctors from EBNHC and 17 volunteers to scour the neighborhoods.

“We door knock in neighborhoods where COVID-19 was the worst,” said Vega. “We get the information and start follow ups with them and they do end up making an appointment. We tell them we believe in this vaccine, we think they qualify to get it and we think they should take advantage of it.”

Lopes said the three challenges for standing up these vaccine sites has been staffing, vaccine supply and space. Already, the space issue has been solved by commandeering La Colaborativa’s office for the large vaccine clinic. He also said the vaccine supply has been predictable, and will only get better this week now that the site will get direct shipments from the federal government.

The only outlier is staffing.

“Staffing is primarily the biggest challenge,” Lopes said. “Finding staffing is the hard part because everyone in the country is recruiting the same people – the medical people and even registration people too.”

In a strong statement, Vega said she felt with the vaccine site on Broadway, vaccine equity in Chelsea had been adequately address. That meant she felt anyone in Chelsea who qualifies for the vaccine and wants it, can get it. That hasn’t been the case in every majority minority neighborhood and city – where access has been less than adequate according to some reports.

“In terms of equity, I feel very confident to say we’ve fully addressed the issue of equity,” she said. “They EBNHC was taking care of Chelsea people already. Chelsea people may not go to the two hospitals here, but they will go walk across the bridge to East Boston. So they must be doing something that makes them comfortable.”

Rollins left thoroughly impressed, she said. That wasn’t just with the vaccine operation, but also the ability to provide help and information for food, housing issues, legal advice and youth summer jobs.

“I look at you and this is what I want government to be,” she said. “I don’t want to go to 50 different places, but to one place. I don’t want it to be a situation where at 4:59 p.m. the phone is dead. It’s not like that here.”

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