East Boston Neighborhood Health Center to get coronavirus vaccines directly from feds

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center to get coronavirus vaccines directly from feds

A community health center getting shots into the arms of residents in neighborhoods hard hit by the pandemic has a friend in Washington,  D.C.

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center will begin receiving their coronavirus vaccine doses directly from the federal government through a new partnership aimed at increasing equity in access.

“We’re in the right neighborhoods, we’ve had our doors open all day,” EBNHC Chief Medical Officer Jackie Fantes said during a visit to the health center’s vaccination site at La Colaborativa in Chelsea.

“It’s very scary for a lot of our patients to go to mass vaccination sites,” she said, adding that having community locations where people can “pull up or walk up is key to getting high-priority people vaccinated.”

EBNHC was initially given 4,000 doses by the state to vaccinate people at its sites in Chelsea, East Boston, Revere and Boston’s South End. On Thursday, 160 people got their shots in Chelsea, while 260 received doses in East Boston.

The state has been a “wonderful partner,” Fantes said. But the federal partnership opens up a new vaccine pipeline for the health center — one that might allow the state to reallocate precious doses to other sites in need.

“We’re one of the few community health centers in the country that has been granted direct access to the federal government supply, which means that the supply today that we’re using from the state could go to other areas within the state,” EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes said, adding that six other health centers in Massachusetts have qualified for the program.

Community health centers account for roughly 46,000, or just under 4%, of all vaccine doses administered in Massachusetts thus far, according to weekly Department of Public Health data. They’re getting shots into arms in several communities, like Chelsea and Revere, that are still considered high risk for transmission. They’re also playing a crucial role in combating vaccine hesitancy.

Getting more shots into the arms of those in areas “can help stop the virus,” Fantes said. “It could be magic.”

The pandemic laid bare long-standing racial and economic inequities in smaller, poorer cities such as Chelsea, where the National Guard was called in to help hand out food early in the crisis.

“But Chelsea also showed what is possible,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said after touring the La Colaborativa vaccination clinic on Thursday. “Chelsea showed us what it means to stand up for each other, to work together to make sure that people have access to health care, that they have food, that they have jobs, that they are protected and that they developed partnerships now that we are in the time of vaccinations. So Chelsea is a very hopeful story as well.”

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