On Monday, to commemorate Boston Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue, the magazine hosted an influencer panel discussion on how to overcome the challenges facing Boston and other communities post pandemic and beyond.
East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) President and CEO Manny Lopes was one of several panelists that took part in Monday’s discussion. Others included Reverend Liz Walker, Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church; Betty Francisco, General Counsel for Compass Working Capital; and Karen Chen, Executive Director of Chinese Progressive Action.
Moderated by Kennedy Elsey of Mix 104.1, Lopes was asked what some of the challenges EBNHC faced as well as the successes of the health center’s vaccine rollout.
“We (EBNHC) have done over 80,000 doses of COVID vaccine as of today and that is pretty incredible,” said Lopes Monday. “The team has worked extremely hard to make sure that on day one and week one we had (vaccine) sites open in some of the hardest hit communities in the state. In East Boston, Chelsea, the South End and through our partnership in Everett and Revere we were really ready to get the vaccine out to people who needed it the most.”
Lopes said some of the challenges up front were getting all EBNHC staff vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“We knew that our employees were our most important resources and without them we couldn’t do this work,” said Lopes. “So when Moderna became available, we were the first in the country to give our employees a shot and we quickly rolled that out to the rest of the communities we serve. It was important to do this because we learn a lot from our staff. Sixty percent of our staff come from the communities we serve so they really informed us in terms of how we can get our message out or what questions residents have. But we knew we had to build capacity because we had many people who were ready to rush through the door. So we built this capacity to handle the volume and we had to really come at this rollout with a sledgehammer.”
However, Lopes added that EBNHC staff knew in the communities they serve there is a level of mistrust of the healthcare system and many people had a lot of questions about the vaccine. “So, in addition to opening up these sites we also launched our education and outreach campaign to make sure that we were getting messages out early and often about how well the vaccine works, answering questions around the issues and concerns that people may have,” said Lopes. “So once we got through the ‘vaccine yeses’ (those who wanted the vaccine) which was quite a bit of a challenge we really began to focus on the ‘maybes’ in the neighborhoods. The ‘maybes’ are the ones who won’t go to the vaccine website, won’t stay on the phone for 30 minutes waiting for someone to answer and you have to go to them. That’s what we’ve been doing through our local vaccination sites that are well positioned.”
Lopes said through partnerships and mobile vaccine vehicles EBNHC was able to go to the heart of hard hit communities and get more and more people vaccinated.
“We made sure that vaccination sites were easily accessible,” said Lopes. “We launched, along with some of our partners, mobile pop up sites where we can go into the heart of these areas. We can go to large employers and get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
Lopes said the most recent challenge EBNHC is facing is the ‘hard no”.
“Today we’re dealing with the ‘hard noes’, which we’ve been dealing with since the beginning of the rollout,” said Lopes “These are individuals that need really personal attention and our strategy there is to do the vaccines in our exam rooms. Since we are the largest provider of healthcare in our service area we have high penetration rates in these communities. We felt that this is a great opportunity for us to put the vaccine in the exam rooms and hopefully give individuals an opportunity to ask some of those private questions, meet with their primary care team, and hopefully get the vaccine.”
Come fall and beyond Lopes said there will be a lot of discussion and learning over the COVID ‘booster’ vaccine. This is the one shot booster vaccinated people will receive about six months after completing their first round of vaccination shots.
“There’s a lot for us to learn around boosters and we’re waiting for the CDC guidance around that once it becomes available,” said Lopes. “But from our perspective we were doing 100,000 pre pandemic flu shots a year. So we’re going to treat the booster like any other vaccine and hope that people every year, if it is necessary, come in and get their flu shot and get that COVID-19 booster shot as well.”