NEW BEDFORD — City health officials are scrambling to preserve “Block by Block” pop-up vaccination clinics after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health canceled three clinics at city public schools this week and scrapped its schedule running through November.
The clinics targeted city neighborhoods where COVID-19 has struck the hardest and where barriers to access vaccines remain highest. Since July, the city’s pop-up clinics have administered 2,068 vaccines in New Bedford of which 66% were first doses for previously unvaccinated residents.
New Bedford Health Director Damon Chaplin will meet with state Department of Public Health officials on Tuesday to discuss the changes and to determine the fate of pop-up clinics in New Bedford, including those that have taken place at health centers, parks, fire stations, and city public schools.
New Bedford is one of 20 Massachusetts communities selected to receive funding and support through the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative. Brick-and-mortar health centers such as Seven Hills and Greater New Bedford Community Health Center hosted vaccination clinics throughout the summer, while a state contractor, Cataldo Ambulance Service, operated mobile clinics at parks and outdoor events.
In August, Cataldo introduced pop-up clinics at four city public schools — Normandin Middle School, Keith Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and New Bedford High School.
The state Department of Public Health did not respond to several requests for comment on Thursday and Friday regarding the withdrawal of support for vaccination clinics in New Bedford. The city’s 49% rate of fully vaccinated residents lags behind Bristol County at 62% and the statewide rate of 68%.
The success of New Bedford’s mobile vaccination clinics has relied on the efforts of neighborhood groups like the Immigrants’ Assistance Center, which has been speaking to faith leaders and canvassing the South End block by block.
After a recent Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s, a doctor addressed worshippers in Spanish to speak about vaccination, and 16 parishioners signed up to receive vaccines that day from a mobile clinic. IAC president Helena DaSilva Hughes said these efforts are time consuming, and often must take place one-on-one. Outreach is successful, Hughes said, when done in close coordination with pop-up clinics scheduled that day.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Hughes. “Slowly, but surely we’ll get there. For me, hearing these clinics are going to stop, when our numbers are still so low, it’s disheartening. We can’t stop doing this and say we’re all done. This is a continuing issue.”
There are still some free clinics in New Bedford where anyone can walk up for COVID-19 vaccines without an appointment.
Email Abigail Nehring at email@example.com.
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