All In: Closing the COVID-19 Vaccine Gap

A National Urban League Partnership

Ruth Carter, Costume Designer – Oscar Winner – Black Panther – Native of Springfield, MA
Recipient of  The Urban League’s Achievement Award For 2021

Explore the prestigious and oldest African American owned and operated summer residential youth camp in the nation for boys and girls, 8 – 15 years old.

The Wellness Tour provides accessible, affordable resources for prevention and early detection of major chronic diseases, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

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Summer Nights

Camp Atwater Campsite Tuesday and Thursdays, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. will be hosting organized activities including basketball, kickball, dodgeball, fishing, music, fencing, pottery, arts & crafts, tennis instruction and food. The program is free of charge and open to greater Springfield and Worcester area youth ages 14-17. Call (413) 739-7211 ext. 103 to learn more and register. Transportation is provided from Springfield.

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Latest News

UMass Medical School Springfield campus graduates first class of doctors; Henry M. Thomas III receives honorary degree


At the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s 48th commencement ceremony a week ago, two high achievers from Springfield – one with career-long accolades to his credit and another just beginning to forge his own career path – were front and center.

Henry M. Thomas III, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield and former chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, was among three honorary degree recipients recognized.

And, 26-year-old Kevin White received his medical degree as one of the school’s inaugural cohort of 19 students who did the bulk of their clinical training at the medical school’s 4-year-old satellite campus at Springfield’s Baystate Health. He was among more than 250 students from the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Nursing and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to receive degrees.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins said it was fitting that this year’s in-person commencement ceremony — following last year’s virtual event due to COVID-19 — honored two of Springfield’s finest citizens.

“It represents a convergence of a lot of wonderful things,” Collins said, noting Thomas’ support for the school of medicine’s satellite program known as Population-based Urban and Rural Population Health (PURCH) track, attended by White. “It’s a pure joy to honor both of them.”

“He’s an outstanding young man,” Collins said of White, adding that gaining acceptance into the highly competitive school requires excellent grades and character.

White now heads to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he will serve in the U.S. Navy as a resident in primary medicine. It meant White received both his medical degree and his naval commission on the same day.

As a former UMass board chair, Thomas has been a champion of UMass Medical School, the state’s first and only public academic health and science center, Collins says. Thomas was also instrumental in the creation of the Baystate Health satellite program known as the PURCH track, he notes.

“There was a talk of opening a satellite for 40 years,” says Thomas. “As chairman of the board, I asked then-UMass president Robert Caret to help me.”

Caret, who previously had developed a satellite campus in downtown Baltimore for Towson University, helped make the idea of a Springfield medical school a reality.

“We could do that here. I want you to help me do it,” Thomas recalls of his conversation with Caret. “A team of strong leaders with a can-do spirit is what was needed.”

Chancellor Collins was on the same wavelength.

Collins had high praise for the Baystate medical faculty members who trained students in the PURCH program. The medical school had already had an affiliation with Baystate through Tufts Medical Center before the Springfield satellite campus was established. “The beauty for us was that it was already a teaching hospital,” Collins said. “And we had a very proficient faculty.”

Students admitted to UMass Medical School can check a box that they are interested in the PURCH track. The goal is to admit 20% of the class into the track. There were 19 in first cohort, and the goal is to increase the number to 25.

“Members of this first class are truly trailblazers,” said Dr. Andrew Artenstein, chief physician executive and chief academic officer at Baystate Health. “They were already highly accomplished in college and in life when they chose UMass Medical School over other top schools including Harvard.

“They took a chance on a new regional campus, deciding that working with underserved populations was a good fit for their goals in medicine,” he said. “And they put their trust in us.”

A special feature of the PURCH track is a partnership with non-physicians who work in community based social service agencies, including homeless shelters, daycare centers and jails, Artenstein said.


Kevin White, of Springfield, center, is seen here on June 5 at a pre-graduation party at Baystate Health with Dr. Kevin T. Hinchey, left, senior associate dean for education at University of Massachusetts Medical School – Baystate and chief education officer for Baystate Health, and Dr. Andrew W. Artenstein, chief physician executive and chief academic officer for Baystate Health. White, on June 6, was awarded his medical degree, one of the first cohort of 19 students to complete the UMass Medical School’s PURCH track in Springfield at Baystate Health. White is now in residency at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (BAYSTATE HEALTH PHOTO)

Through those experiences the students become better doctors. “It’s not all about diagnosing sickness,” he said. “It’s understanding what people go through and how they can impact their patients’ lives.”

Of this first group of graduates, added Artenstein, “They taught our faculty as much as we taught them. They are extraordinary.”

Members of the PURCH cohort are heading to top-level residency programs. Four of the new MDs will stay at Baystate Health for residency much to the delight of the faculty who worked with them.

Baystate Health spent $2 million to build out the PURCH track medical school space, renovating 6,300 square feet of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute at 3601 Main St. in the city’s North End. The facility includes classroom space and seven interview rooms.

The PURCH track is a patient-centered and team-based program aimed at narrowing health care disparities in urban and rural populations. The students and their instructors formed partnerships with organizations like Square One, the Martin Luther King Center, homeless shelters and the Hampden County Correctional Center, among others.

UMass Medical School is continuing its commitment to the PURCH program as its first graduates head off to careers in medicine, according to Collins.

Thomas, too, says he will continue to promote the PURCH program and celebrate the good work its students have done in the community.

White said he and his student colleagues and faculty, who make up part of a learning circle known as “Brightwood” for one of the neighborhoods it serves, learned a lot from community leaders when they began their studies in Springfield.

Interactions with neighborhood community leaders helped him understand that being a good doctor means listening to your patients and their feelings about health care they have received. He said, “I’ve learned so much from them.”

White, who was born at Baystate Medical Center and is a graduate of Sabis International Charter School, was among four of the students in the inaugural PURCH class to be from Springfield or nearby communities.

Henry Thomas III

Henry Thomas III (Ed Cohen photo)

When Thomas, who also received an honorary degree from Nichols College this spring, joined the Urban League of Springfield in 1974, at the age of 25, he became the nation’s youngest appointed leader of a National Urban League affiliate.

A native of Springfield, Thomas founded the New Leadership Council Charter School, established Step Up Springfield, was the first African-American to chair the Springfield Police and Fire commissions and previously led Camp Atwater in North Brookfield, the oldest overnight camp for African American youth in the United States.

After his appointment to the UMass Board of Trustees by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007, Thomas distinguished himself with a 13-year tenure, including two-and-a-half years as board chair. Thomas earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from American International College and his law degree from Western New England University School of Law.

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All In: Closing the COVID-19 Vaccine Gap

A National Urban League Partnership

Man showing his COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

Fighting Back Against COVID-19

The past year has been hard on all of us. Between living day-to-day not knowing how to protect ourselves from COVID-19, being isolated from friends and family, and not knowing when life would return to normal – it felt like we lost a year of our lives.

What if we told you that the end is in sight and there's a way to get your life back on track. Researchers from around the globe, including many who look like us, spent months developing and testing a vaccine to protect us from COVID-19 and spreading it on to others. Learn more about what's possible through getting vaccinated and the options available to you.

Is the Vaccine Right for Me? Is it Safe?

Vaccines have been around for centuries. In fact, the first vaccine used in the world was created to stop the spread of smallpox. Thanks to the adoption of that vaccine, our bodies have been able to develop a resistance to the virus making it far less of a public health threat today than it was in the 1700's.

The same is possible with the COVID-19 vaccine.

In fact, millions of people have already been vaccinated and Black and Brown people made up 1 in 3 of the vaccine trial participants. It was also tested on people with existing health conditions and people of all ages and determined safe to be used.

Even if you're already had COVID, studies show that getting vaccinated can prevent you from getting infected again and protect you from serious symptoms.

As of May 2021, the CDC and FDA have determined that the vaccine is safe for people under 18 and it is now available to children 12 to 15 years old.

If you're interested in getting vaccinated there are three options for you:

  • Moderna
  • Pfizer
  • Johnson & Johnson

Where You Can Get Vaccinated

What's in the Vaccine?

If you're worried about the COVID-19 vaccine giving you COVID, you don't have to. The vaccine was developed without using the live virus to avoid causing serious illness and reactions. In fact, the most common side effects of this vaccine are pain where patients receive an injection, fatigue, and headaches. Prior to receiving a vaccine, you are asked about your allergies to avoid serious reactions and each person is monitored closely for 15 to 20 minutes after each dose.

For more information on what's in each individual vaccine read more below.

More About the Vaccine

We've developed this list of FAQs to help you learn more about the vaccine.


COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has claimed the lives of over half a million Americans. To prevent the spread of the virus, public health officials began to invest in developing a vaccine. Today there are plenty of options to protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus.

After extensive testing, three COVID-19 vaccinations have been approved by the FDA for public use:

  • Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer/BioNTech.
  • Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are U.S. companies.

  • Two new vaccines–AstraZeneca/Oxford and Novavax–are expected to be available by the spring if they successfully complete their testing and safety reviews.

  • All Americans will have the option to get vaccinated by May 2021

Getting immunized against COVID-19 will keep most people from getting sick. Even in a rare case where one does catch the virus, the vaccine will likely prevent you from becoming seriously ill. Protecting yourself also protects the people around you, like those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or those who can’t get vaccinated — like infants, or people with weakened immune systems from things like chemotherapy for cancer. We are still learning how the vaccine affects whether people can still transmit COVID-19 to others. It may be possible that a vaccinated person can still carry the virus and infect others, even if that person does not appear to be sick. That’s why, until enough Americans are vaccinated to fight off COVID-19, we will need to keep wearing masks, stay 6 feet apart from people we don’t live with, avoid crowds, and wash our hands frequently.

Based on decades of understanding immune response and how vaccines work. Thousands of volunteers participated in clinical trials that started that spring, making sure we can trust the vaccines to be safe and effective. Based on the results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized multiple vaccines for public use in December 2020 and a third in February 2021. The vaccines met the agency’s rigorous and science-based standards for quality, safety, and effectiveness. COVID-19 is a new virus requiring new vaccines, but vaccines have been saving lives and protecting us for centuries. Now, medical experts believe COVID-19 vaccines can help us move forward in our everyday lives.

Every vaccine must go through rigorous testing and inspection to ensure it is safe. Vaccines for COVID-19 followed a 3-phase process where there are several stages before FDA authorization: Phase 1: The vaccine is tested in a small number of generally healthy adults, usually between 20 and 80 people. It’s evaluated for safety, dosage, and any side effects. Experts also look at what type of immune response is created. Phase 2: If there are no safety concerns from Phase I studies, the vaccine is given in various dosages to hundreds of adults who may have a variety of health issues and come from different backgrounds to make sure it is safe. These studies provide additional safety information on common short-term side effects and risks, examine the relationship between the dose given and the immune response, and may provide initial information regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine. Phase 3: Experts broaden the study to include thousands of adults, from a variety of ages and backgrounds. They see how many people who got the vaccine were protected from the disease, compared to those who received a placebo.

Researchers made sure that the trials included adults of diverse backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and geographic areas. They collaborated with faith leaders, community organizations, and health clinics to reach volunteers from many different walks of life across the United States. Medical experts and doctors want to make sure the vaccines work safely and effectively for as many people as possible. People may respond differently to vaccines based on factors like age, gender, and health conditions — so it is important to have a diverse group of participants in clinical trials. COVID-19 has hit hard in the Black and Hispanic communities. Historically, these populations haven’t always been included in clinical research, but with COVID-19 vaccines researchers made sure volunteers included people of color, as well as people over the age of 65 who are at higher risk of complications from the virus.

Pregnant women who get infected with COVID-19 disease are more likely to have severe disease. Pregnant women are recommended to receive COVID-19 vaccine, but you should consult with your primary care physician to ensure it’s the right choice for you.

Immunization against COVID-19 will help protect you for the near future, but it’s still not clear how long the protection will last. We will have a clearer picture of how long immunity lasts in years to come when we have collected more data. Both natural immunity and immunity from the vaccine are important ways to fight COVID-19 that experts are trying to learn more about, and places like the CDC will keep the public informed as new evidence becomes available.

It’s normal to experience some mild discomfort following a vaccine. This means it’s working and creating an immune response in your body. You may feel soreness or experience some swelling in your arm. You may also feel tired, have a headache, fever, or chills.

These symptoms do not mean you have COVID-19 — it’s not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. These symptoms may impact your daily activities, but they shouldn’t last more than 2-3 days. If they continue or get worse, call your doctor, nurse, or clinic. Even if you have these types of effects after your first shot, it’s important to make sure you get the second one, unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get a second shot. Ask your doctor if you have questions.

Your body takes time to build immunity. You may not be fully protected against COVID-19 until 1-2 weeks after your second shot. In most cases, discomfort from fever or pain is normal. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider:

  • If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours
  • If your symptoms are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days
  • If you get a COVID-19 vaccine and you think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccination site, seek immediate medical care by calling 911. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and rare severe allergic reactions.

The CDC and FDA have recommended the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine resume in the United States, effective April 23, 2021. The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older.

Mild to moderate headaches and muscle aches are common in the first three days after vaccination and don't require emergency care.

If you received the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last three weeks and are experiencing any unexplained new severe symptoms, seek emergency care. Possible symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain
  • Severe headache
  • New neurological symptoms
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Severe backache
  • Unexpected bruising
  • Tiny red spots on the skin

Women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots with low platelets after vaccination, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are available where this risk has not been seen.

If you have an underlying medical condition, you can receive the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, vaccination is especially important for adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, because they are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Ask your doctor if you have specific questions.

If you have an autoimmune condition, you may receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna). However, you should consult with your doctor, nurse, or other health providers to discuss whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

When we get a vaccine, it activates our immune response. This helps our bodies learn to fight off the virus without the danger of an actual infection. If we are exposed to the virus in the future, our immune system “remembers” how to fight it. Some COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA. mRNA vaccines do not contain a live virus — they give our bodies “instructions” for how to make and fight the harmless spike-shaped proteins that will protect against a COVID-19 infection. While these vaccines use new technology, researchers have been studying them for decades.

Medical experts do not know exactly what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. Herd immunity is a term used to describe when enough people have protection — either from previous infection or vaccination — that it is unlikely a virus or bacteria can spread and cause disease. As a result, everyone within the community is protected even if some people don’t have any protection themselves. The percentage of people who need to have protection in order to achieve herd immunity varies by disease.

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

There are two main paths to herd immunity for COVID-19 — infection, and vaccines.

Unlike natural infection, when people pass a virus on to one another, vaccines create immunity without causing illness or resulting complications. Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella, and many others.

Many teams of medical experts around the world have helped in the search for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine — including many of the leading doctors here in the United States. Having multiple vaccines in development and production is crucial so that vaccination programs can be rolled out in many different countries at the same time, reaching as many people as possible. Hundreds of millions of vaccine doses have already been distributed and hundreds of millions more are in production. New vaccine candidates are also in development which may provide more options, as well as additional quantities for the American people.

State and local governments will ultimately decide when each group gets access to vaccines based on the local supply. That way, communities can set the priorities that work for them. The federal government does not mandate vaccines or set the rules for each community. As more vaccines are produced over the first half of 2021, more people will be able to get vaccinated based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the CDC. If you have questions, make sure you talk to your doctor. Some people — like pregnant women or people with certain severe allergies — might be told to wait to get a specific vaccine once it’s available. Your doctor should be able to tell you when and where you can get your shots. It might be at a hospital, the doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or a drive-thru clinic.

If you’ve had COVID-19 in the past 90 days, talk to your doctor about when you should get vaccinated. People who have already had COVID-19 should still eventually get vaccinated to ensure they are protected. Over the next few months, with more and more people getting vaccinated, we will find out more about how the vaccines protect people who have already had COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection. You should not be required to have an antibody test before you are vaccinated. However, anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and after they have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.

New variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 illness have emerged. Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States should work against these variants. For this reason, COVID-19 vaccines are an essential tool to protect people against COVID-19, including against new variants. CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available to you.

According to the latest CDC guidance, fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors in most situations.

The agency was not specific about masking in some settings, including schools. And even fully vaccinated people are still told to cover their faces when visiting health care facilities, while flying or taking public transit, and in congregate settings such as homeless shelters, as well as prisons or jails.

Continuing to wear a mask helps protect others while we learn more about how COVID-19 spreads. It also helps protect people who are not able to get vaccinated — such as pregnant women or young children.

We need to work together to get to the end of this pandemic. While trial data suggests authorized COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, we will only manage the pandemic if enough people take them. Vaccine manufacturers are producing and distributing millions of doses of the vaccines and all 50 states have announced when they plan to open up coronavirus vaccinations to everyone eligible under US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorizations -- if they haven't done so already. Until enough people have been immunized against COVID-19, we should continue wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart from people we don’t live with, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands.

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