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Chelsea nonprofit opens doors for vaccinations

Jordan Frias
Chelsea nonprofit opens doors for vaccinations
La Colaborativa began vaccinations in Chelsea last week. Jordan Frias photo

In the city of Chelsea, once considered the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in Massachusetts, residents have new hope, with a new vaccination site located downtown now available to residents.

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center opened a vaccination site at La Colaborativa in Chelsea to inoculate residents on Thursday, Feb. 4 and plans to ramp up vaccinations to meet demand in the coming weeks.

Manny Lopes, the president and CEO of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, said it was important to place the city’s first vaccination site in the heart of Chelsea by Bellingham Square on Broadway. He said that was made possible by partnering with the nonprofit.

“When we first started talking to the city of Chelsea we knew right away that we wanted to be in the heart of Chelsea; we wanted to be easily accessible, [within] walking distance, and there’s nothing like this place here,” he said.

Three other sites set up by the health center are located in East Boston, the South End and Revere and took approximately two days to get up and running. All of the sites are open to those eligible according to the state’s vaccination priority list and timeline.

Lopes said a lot of messaging went out to the community and a phone line was set up to reach residents directly. This effort is intended to make sure those most impacted by the virus living in the city get priority, which is why the site does not yet appear on the state of Massachusetts’ webpage.

Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa, formerly called Chelsea Collaborative, spoke about the economic hardship and death toll that the community experienced because of the pandemic. She said her organization is delighted to open its doors to save lives in an area that is often neglected.

“We were the epicenter of the pandemic,” Vega said, “because our workers work in the produce center, they work at Logan, they work in the service industry, so for us the highlight is, when we have the community fully vaccinated … we will continue nicely to push for more advocacy so we can continue to get more, especially in communities of color.”

Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino explained what it means to have trusted partners like the health center and La Colaborativa leading the vaccination effort. He said the goal is to vaccinate as many of the city’s residents as quickly as possible, given the disproportionate impact this virus has had on Chelsea.

“These are organizations that have spent decades earning the trust of the residents of Chelsea, and that’s going to bode well for our efforts to overcome whatever fear and hesitancy exists out there for the vaccine,” Ambrosino said.

On its opening day the La Colaborativa site was able to provide vaccine for over 100 residents. Lopes said the goal is to eventually reach 500 people per day.

Blanca Formata, 72, of Chelsea, said she was so happy to receive a call and know she could finally get vaccinated.

“If you have this opportunity, get vaccinated,” Formata said in Spanish. “Don’t be afraid — this is for everyone’s safety.”

Violeta Reyes, 75, who lives in Everett, was among the first in line at La Colaborativa to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

She told reporters in Spanish that although Chelsea has gotten better and she’s been vaccinated, she plans to stay home as much as possible and will continue to follow precautions. Her next vaccination appointment for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is in three weeks.

Also pleased that a location finally opened in the city was Ramelfo Frometa. He said he had been trying to book an appointment at Fenway Park but was unsuccessful. He was in disbelief when La Colaborativa called and told him to come down to get vaccinated.

“[A]ll of a sudden they opened up this center. You don’t have to go far away for this, you just have to walk — I live down the street,” Frometa explained. “I hope this continues, and I’m glad they opened up this center here to do the vaccination because we need it in Chelsea.”

For more information contact the website for La Colaborativa