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Massachusetts Targets Vaccine Efforts To 20 Communities Hard-Hit By COVID

LAWRENCE (CBS) - Residents in Lawrence and Methuen are relieved the state is stepping up efforts to get vaccines into the communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The two communities are among a list of the 20 cities and towns -- including Boston, Worcester and Fall River -- the Department of Public Health is targeting as part of its outright initiative to increase equity in COVID-19 vaccine access and awareness.

A man receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (WBZ-TV)

"We'll listen to each community regarding their needs, and we will assist each city or town building on existing efforts in strengthening vaccine awareness of administration plans currently in place," said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharell.

Community leaders with the newly formed Vaccine Equity Now Coalition, which held a news conference Wednesday, said the state's new campaign doesn't go far enough to address racial inequalities.

They're calling on Governor Charlie Baker to promise 20% more vaccine doses for the most impacted communities, an investment of 10 million dollars in organizations to engage with communities of color, and the appointment of a vaccine czar.

"These recommendations were developed by a diverse collation of black, brown and immigrant leaders," said Eva Millona of Vaccine Equity Now Coalition.

Attorney General Maura Haley agrees with the collation that the Baker Administration's initiative is just a start.

"We need to be intentional, and equity should be something that's referenced every single day and should be accounted for in whatever the percentages are of the shots administered in the state," Healey said.

UMass Memorial Health Care CEO Dr. Eric Dickson said one of the ways to reach underserved communities is to go directly to them.

"It takes extra effort because they're not typically as familiar with Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park, and so the key is really balance. The key is to have a program that is equitable and efficient," said Dr. Eric Dickson.

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