SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Despite having some of the highest infection rates during the coronavirus pandemic, Bristol County’s largest cities have among the lowest vaccination rates in Massachusetts.
A Target 12 analysis of Massachusetts Department of Public Health data shows nearly 14% of New Bedford’s population tested positive during the pandemic, ranking ninth highest in Massachusetts. As of last Thursday, however, only 28% of city residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine, tied for second lowest in Massachusetts. The statewide rate at that time totaled 45%.
“I wouldn’t say it is cause for alarm,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “There are other cities that are in similar situations. We are concerned about it, and there are many reasons why that is.”
Mitchell said cultural and language barriers have been obstacles to vaccinating more people, and he pointed to other variables that make his city unique, including the nature of its workforce being inherently tougher to reach.
“The workforce in many major cities and their suburbs is remote to a great degree,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have nearly as many people working on factory floors, much less the decks of fishing vessels.”
Fall River has a similar story.
While the city has Massachusetts’ sixth highest rate of coronavirus cases, only 31% of its residents have received at least one vaccine dose. That’s the fifth lowest rate statewide, according to the most recently available state data from 337 cities and towns reporting their information.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan. “I know we’re trying to play catch-up now, but we’ll get through this.”
Coogan said vaccine supply over the winter put his city at an early disadvantage, making its numbers look worse comparatively. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in March named Fall River and New Bedford as two of the state’s highest-risk cities, and he announced an outreach campaign designed to boost access to vaccines.
Coogan said that campaign resulted in extra doses from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We also get what they call equity doses, which are supposed to be targeted to specific populations,” Coogan said.
Despite the boost, however, Coogan said supply is still not meeting demand locally, especially as outreach efforts have expanded.
“We’ve gone out to all of our affordable housing properties, we’ve gone door-to-door with our seniors who can’t get in, today we just did a clinic for a couple of our companies,” Coogan said. “We’re bringing the vaccinations to people where they work, where they live, or where they want to hang around.”
New Bedford and Fall River aren’t alone regionally, either. Target 12’s analysis also shows Bristol County as a whole is lagging statewide, with all of its cities and towns in the bottom half of communities across Massachusetts. Taunton and Attleboro rank in the bottom 30.
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.