How a clinical professor helps to tackle vaccination hesitancy, one clinic at a time

Thomas Matta, an assistant clinical professor, and members of the National Guard, fill Pfizer vaccines at Florian Hall in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As an immunization-certified pharmacist, Thomas M. Matta began vaccinating the public for COVID-19 as soon as he could. Now he’s taken his involvement a significant step further: the Northeastern professor helped set up a vaccination clinic in Dorchester this month serving at-risk patients.

Thomas Matta, assistant clinical professor. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Matta, a part-time professor and a clinical pharmacist at Health Harbor Services Inc., says the immunization site ensures that underserved community members have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. It also means he can soothe worries about potential side effects as the nation faces ongoing issues with vaccination hesitancy.

“In my role as a clinical pharmacist, a lot of the patients I see are high risk. They have tons of questions about how safe the vaccine is, and you have to appreciate that there’s a lot of concern,” says Matta. Some who are hesitant have asked Matta if the vaccine will give them COVID-19, and others have general concerns about the potential long-term impacts of the vaccine, Matta says.  

President Biden is on the cusp of launching a $250 million multimedia campaign aimed at inoculating skeptical Americans. That includes some people of color who remain worried about the vaccine’s safety.

As of February, more adults than ever are enthusiastic about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but Black and Hispanic adults continue to be more likely than white adults to delay or avoid vaccination, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The KFF is a nonprofit that launched an ongoing information dashboard in December to measure the public’s attitude about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Members of the National Guard fill Pfizer vaccines at Florian Hall in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Massachusetts officials reported that as of March 15, 80 percent of those vaccinated against the virus are white, 6 percent of those vaccinated are Black, and 5 percent are Hispanic. 

Matta, an assistant clinical professor at Northeastern’s School of Pharmacy, admits even he was slightly worried about the COVID-19 vaccination because of how quickly the inoculation was approved for public use.

“I was hesitant, but I still got it after reading studies and getting more information. I trust the science behind it,” says Matta. He adds that many who visit the clinic are thrilled to be immunized.

“The amount of happiness you see is great. You can see that it’s a relief and they’re excited to see that the state is focusing on local health centers,” he says.

Matta spearheaded creation last month of Harbor Health’s clinic located at Dorchester’s Florian Hall, and soon the Massachusetts Department of Public Health pledged to provide staffing. The operation administered 300 vaccinations within its first week, and currently delivers 2,000 vaccinations per week. The clinic is staffed by Harbor Health Services as well as 12 members of the Massachusetts National Guard.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“We’re very fortunate. It’s an honor to be helping keep the public safe like this,” says National Guard  Lieutenant Colonel Joe Puliafico. Matta not only helped train younger National Guard personnel how to vaccinate patients safely, but introduced several administrative efficiencies that helped increase the number of vaccinations per day, says Puliafico.

“From the moment we got there, he’s been troubleshooting and helping us. He’s someone who clearly loves to teach and has been a huge resource,” says Puliafico.

Matta is already working on setting up a similar clinic in Hyannis. Like Puliafico, he feels lucky to be a part of an effort to keep people safe and healthy.

“We’re almost at that point where we can see normalcy off in the distance,” says Matta. “You can see people smile even with the mask on. The happiness sort of radiates through.”

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