Oct 12, 2021
‘You’re getting vaccinated for your entire community’
Nonprofit organizations are mobilizing to boost COVID-19 vaccine access for the Bay State’s immigrant communities, who have been among the hardest-hit during the pandemic.
Batting obstacles that include language barriers, access to services, and vaccine hesitancy, leaders including the Rev. Dieufort J. Fleurissaint, better known to the Haitian community, as Pastor Keke, are urgently reaching out to immigrants and other disproportionately impacted groups to share information about the safe, effective, and necessary vaccine, as the Delta variant rages.
We need to get back to normal and the only way we can get back to normal is for all of our people to get vaccinated.
“It’s a message of protecting yourself but also, don’t be selfish,” he said. “If you don’t get vaccinated, you are selfish.”
Pastor Keke, who does a wide range of advocacy work on behalf of immigrants seeking temporary protected status or permanent residency, among other services, says he tells his clients, parishioners and neighbors that, in order for him to keep working on their behalf, he needs to stay alive and well.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has partnered with Equity Now & Beyond, a collaborative of five immigrant-led organizations, to host vaccine clinics and provide educational outreach in immigrant communities across Massachusetts through the fall.
Volunteers from African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE), Haitian Americans United (HAU), Brazilian Women’s Group, Agencia ALPHA, and the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing help address potential barriers to vaccination among immigrant communities, including translation services, transportation support and one-on-one counseling.
“It takes a wealth of partnership and collaboration and education to make this happen,” Pastor Keke said.
Clare Okalany, who works for ACEDONE, said she appreciates the historical roots of vaccine hesitancy in the immigrant community, but that she tells community members that controlling COVID-19 is about personal responsibility.
“It’s about ensuring the spread of this virus does not go on,” she said. “We are doing our best to bridge inequities and to ensure that, going forward, what was wrong is righted. For that to happen, we still need you to be part of the team. You’re getting vaccinated not just for yourself, you’re getting vaccinated for your entire community.”
State data analyses have found higher levels of infection, hospitalization and death in cities and towns with high populations of immigrants since the start of the pandemic, an indication of high rates of essential workers exposed to illness as well as housing and transportation disparities. The state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative supports outreach and access, joined by not-for-profit organizations like Blue Cross.
"COVID-19 has highlighted longstanding inequities in health care," said Jeff Bellows, Blue Cross' vice president of corporate citizenship and public affairs. "At Blue Cross, we are committed to addressing health disparities both within our membership and the broader community. We are proud to support the grassroots efforts of Equity Now & Beyond."
Attendees at recent pop-up clinics in the Greater Boston area welcomed the opportunity to get the free vaccine.
“I don’t want to get COVID. The vaccine can protect me and protect my health,” said George Lesley Oscar, who said his whole family has been vaccinated. “It was important for us all.”
“We heard a lot of rumors out there -- people who were afraid to come get it -- but I don’t have anything to be afraid of,” said Yvon Alteon. “The government is just trying to prevent people from getting COVID-19.”
Alteon recently received his first dose and said he will be ready and eager to get the second one.
“This is the best thing to do -- come here, get it, and protect yourself,” he said.
Bola Olawuyi, 52, said her hours at work were reduced due to the pandemic and she is anxious to get back to normal. She is fully vaccinated, and said she intends to encourage unvaccinated friends and family to get their shots.
“It’s good, we need to stop spreading this disease, I would encourage them to take the vaccine,” Olawuyi said. “My daughter got the shot, my son got it, all of my family already got it and nothing happened to them, they are safe.”
The decision to get vaccinated was deeply personal for Crystal Torres, 29. As she was getting her shot, she shared that her mother was in the hospital battling the disease.
“She is not doing too well,” Torres said, through tears. She had a strong message for people who had not yet gotten their shots.
Take it seriously, it’s no joke. You’d never think your own mom or your own family member would get COVID.