Due to COVID vaccine inequity, Lawrence takes matters into its own hands

Hugo Balta

Lawrence is a city with one of the highest concentrations of Hispanics -Latinos in Massachusetts (77 percent of the city population). Similar to the state’s other more diverse and lower-income cities it’s facing challenges in regard to vaccine equity and access.

Lawrence which is ranked last in the state for both per capita income and median family income – has one local vaccination site at an elementary school.

According to a report by the Telegram & Gazatte, those who are most vulnerable and impacted by COVID-19, such as Black and Brown populations, are getting vaccinated at a far lesser rate than white populations, though the vaccine rollout is still in its early phases. 

Recent numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that as of Feb. 1, 56% of those who have been vaccinated in Massachusetts identify as white, while only 4% identify as Black and 5% identify as Hispanic. Thirty-one percent identify as multiracial. 

A bilingual call center has been established in Lawrence so residents can avoid the state’s registration site which can be hard to navigate, especially if English isn’t a person’s native language.

“A lot more needs to get done,” said Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez. “That’s why we are taking initiatives on our own.”

Major factors that led to his community being hard-hit, Vasquez told the Telegram & Gazatte, are the scores of multi-unit housing in the city and a workforce employed by many industries deemed essential.

“The type of work our residents have to do, many Lawrence residents did not have the luxury to work from home,” he said. “We’re talking about a very essential workforce in the city. That definitely had a tremendous impact.”

Lawrence has seen more than 17,000 residents test positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and more than 215 deaths. 

Governor Charlie Baker pledged to reserve 20% of the state’s vaccine supply for hard-hit communities, but groups such as the Greater Boston Latino Network says a plan is needed to administer the shots, not just set them aside. 

The bilingual COVID-19 call center, housed in the Lawrence Public Library and staffed by approximately 30 people. Officials are urging residents to call that number (978-620-3330) to schedule an appointment, rather than navigate the challenging state registration process.

Publisher’s Note: This story is an aggregate from COVID vaccine inequity frustrates Massachusetts’ diverse, lower-income cities hardest hit by virus.

(Cover Photo Credit: Daily News & Wicked Local Staff, Art Illman)