Herd immunity is within reach in much of Massachusetts, but state data shows vaccinations are lagging far behind in many of the communities that bore the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic — fueling fears they could be left vulnerable to yet another blow from the deadly disease.
“There is a concern we could have focal outbreaks in these places,” said Dr. Davidson Hamer, a Boston University infectious disease specialist. “It poses a risk to the broader community and herd immunity.”
Statewide, 59% of all people have received at least one coronavirus shot, according to state health data. Among eligible adults, the vaccination rate climbs to 79%. That’s starting to come close to the range experts have said could create herd immunity, which is when enough people are immune so that the spread begins to halt.
But in many of the 20 communities identified by the state as the hardest hit by coronavirus cases, vaccination rates are much lower.
Fewer than half of all Springfield, Lawrence, Holyoke, Fitchburg, Fall River and Brockton residents had received their first coronavirus shot as of Thursday.
A little over half of all residents in Haverhill, Lowell, Lynn, Methuen and Worcester had gotten at least one shot.
Vaccination rates in Chelsea, Everett, Boston, Leominster, Malden, Randolph, Framingham and Revere are in the 60% range.
Hamer said the data points to “obvious vaccine access and equity issues” in cities and towns with large communities of color and larger populations of lower socioeconomic status.
The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker has funneled $30 million into outreach efforts like door-to-door canvassing, flyer drops and community-based vaccination clinics “to address vaccine equity and access for the commonwealth’s most disproportionately impacted communities,” a state COVID-19 command center spokeswoman said.
“These targeted initiatives are working, and it shows; for the last two weeks, none of the commonwealth’s equity communities were identified as high risk, and this week, for the first time since August 2020, there are no high-risk communities,” she said.
It’s true in Chelsea, where Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said the efforts are “really driving people to vaccination sites.” There, 67% of residents have already gotten their first shot.
But other community leaders — while grateful for the state cash — point to slow progress in breaking down barriers fueling vaccine hesitancy.
Dr. Rick Herman, Brockton’s COVID-19 consultant, said mobile clinics in Brockton — where just 49% of residents have gotten a shot — haven’t been as successful as hoped.
“People right now are using their creativity and trying whatever they can to get people to come out and get vaccinated. Some works — next year we will have a pretty good idea of what worked, but now we’re just trying everything,” Herman said.
State Sen. Adam Gomez, D-Springfield, said infiltrating hesitancy in Black and Brown communities has proved challenging. Just 43% of Springfield residents have received a shot.
“We just need to make sure vaccines are readily available,” Gomez said.
Phil Geoffroy, assistant to Lowell’s city manager, agreed “convenience” is proving key.
In state Sen. Diana DiZoglio’s hometown of Methuen, 54% of residents had received one shot as of the latest data. DiZoglio, a Democrat, criticized the Baker administration’s push to shutter the remaining mass vaccination sites over the next month.
“Shutting down vaccine sites at a time when nearly half the population in many cities and towns have yet to receive a single dose makes little sense. We know there is vaccine hesitancy and these sites should remain open to make more folks feel comfortable,” DiZoglio said.
Baker has refocused resources to pop-up and mobile vaccination clinics in an effort to meet people in the communities where they live, he has said.
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