Equitable Vaccine Access

Health Disparities


Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) applauds President Biden’s commitment to “make every adult in the U.S. eligible for vaccination no later than May 1.” As part of this life-saving directive, the federal government is “increasing the number of places Americans can get vaccinated,” focusing specifically on “reaching the hardest-hit and hardest to reach populations.” This rightfully focuses on equitable vaccine access, particularly for hardest-hit communities. The federal mandate is a game-changer, especially in states such as Massachusetts—where people of color and immigrants remain effectively locked out of equitable vaccine access. 

Relatedly, LCR commends the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as a necessary step in providing much-needed relief to communities suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. For ARPA to work, it will be critical to take into account not only population and census data in determining relief allocations, but also factoring in how communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A one-size-fits-all approach to providing relief will not work. We need to ensure that the hardest-hit communities in the Commonwealth, such as Chelsea, are provided more than de minimis support.  

President Biden’s public health directives could not have come at a better time. As the Boston Globe reported this morning, Massachusetts’ botched vaccination efforts have created alarming disparities along racial and class lines. Vaccine access is a matter of life or death. Nevertheless, Governor Baker has consistently failed to address well-documented racialized vaccine inequities in Massachusetts. 

For weeks now, LCR and our community partners have called for exactly what President Biden is now mandating: the creation of “Community Vaccination Centers” and the deployment of “mobile units that will travel into local communities to provide vaccines directly in underserved populations.” 

LCR called for these recommendations based on our close relationship with community-based groups, such as Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA). IBA has a strong interest in establishing a vaccination site in the Villa Victoria housing community in Boston’s South End neighborhood. Villa Victoria is an affordable housing community with predominantly Latinx residents, and is well-situated to serve the vaccination needs for the sizable Latinx community in the South End. 

For instance, Villa Victoria has a large, open-air plaza as well as indoor community spaces, all of which could be utilized as vaccination sites. Critically, Villa Victoria is also a space that is well-known within the Latinx community and thus could promote the goal of overcoming vaccine hesitancy resulting from cultural concerns and language barriers. 

LCR and the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN) brought Villa Victoria to the attention of the Baker Administration on February 1, 2021. But the state has failed to meaningfully respond. With President Biden’s latest directive, these life-saving community-based interventions cannot be ignored. We urge Governor Baker to move in the direction of equitable access immediately. Critical recommendations have also emerged from coalitions, including a powerful collection of community-based groups convened by the Massachusetts Public Health Association.     

In light of the urgency on the ground—and President Biden’s pledge to provide meaningful support to Community Vaccination CentersLCR is calling for the Commonwealth to expand its partnership with CIC Health, the organization running the state’s mass-vaccination centers, to include community-based vaccination sites such as Villa Victoria. Municipalities such as Somerville have demonstrated the efficacy of mobile-based COVID-19 testing, and should be empowered to use a similar model for vaccinations. 

In the absence of state support and guidance, LCR is now convening medical providers and grassroots groups to explore community-based interventions such as setting up vaccination tents and hosting mobile vaccination units.  

LCR stands ready to protect the rights of people of color and immigrants. We also stand ready to partner with state authorities and the medical community to ensure just and equitable vaccine distribution.

Click here to view LCR’s letters to Community Care Cooperative, Whittier Street Health Center, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Fenway Health, and Tufts Medical Center.