PROVINCETOWN — The official statistics from the state Dept. of Public Health say that 114 percent of the residents of Provincetown have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Obviously, that is impossible.
The problem is that the state’s calculation is based on 2010 U.S. Census figures, updated by a formula from the Donahue Institute. But that formula almost certainly doesn’t account for elements of Provincetown’s population, such as seasonal foreign workers here on visas. If they were not in the country when the census was taken, they would not have been counted.
And while public health officials congratulate themselves on the high local vaccination rate, talking to residents across the Outer Cape, most of whom won’t give their names, makes it clear that many are not vaccinated.
Who are they? A significant number may be immigrant workers from Bulgaria — some of the Provincetown residents who probably aren’t included in the state’s population figures.
The Independent granted anonymity to five service industry workers from Bulgaria to discuss vaccination rates in that community. All five said they believed that fewer than half of the Bulgarians in Provincetown are currently vaccinated against Covid; and some estimated the number to be as low as 10 percent.
“The J-1s, the kids who are coming here, I think it’s less than 5 percent,” said one worker. “The ones who are living here now, maybe a quarter.”
“My first day back in Provincetown, I got the vaccine,” said another Bulgarian. “When I had lunch with four of my friends, they all asked me why I got it. They still don’t have it. I wish I could tell you different.
“Bulgarians are very set in their ways, and they’re not going to change their minds,” she added. “My mom believes Bill Gates put microchips in the vaccine. I can’t convince her to get it.”
“The shot they give to rich people is not the same as the shot they give to us,” said a third person interviewed by the Independent.
“I’ll tell you this much: Bulgarians are very off and on. It’s this or it’s that,” said the fourth person. “The shot is supposed to keep you from getting the virus. If it doesn’t, and people are getting sick anyway, why would you put this in your body?”
Two of the people interviewed regretted having been vaccinated for that reason. “If I’m going to get sick anyway, why did I take this shot?” one asked.
Nationally, there is a racial gap in vaccination rates. Black and Hispanic vaccination rates are generally lower than those of white populations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But Mass. Dept. of Public Health statistics appear to show that, on the Outer Cape, white residents have the lowest vaccination rates. The DPH weekly reports on vaccinations per town, last updated on July 22, show that over 95 percent of Black, Asian, and Hispanic residents in Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham have received at least one vaccine dose.
In Provincetown, over 95 percent of white people also have had at least one dose, the DPH reported. As for the white populations of the other towns, the vaccination rate is 89 percent in Wellfleet, 85 percent in Truro, and 81 percent in Eastham.
An effort to speak with members of the Jamaican community revealed a harrowing story.
David Brown, 60, is head pastor at the Chapel on the Pond in North Truro. Brown and his wife, Carlene, began coming here from Jamaica in the 1990s through the H-2B temporary visa program. Like most of their congregation, the Browns work in the service industry. Several days before the pastor was scheduled to get his first Covid-19 vaccination in early April (during Phase II of the vaccine rollout), he began to feel ill. He went to Outer Cape Health Services and demanded a test, even though he had no fever or cough.
“I just did not feel right,” he said.
That night, he received a call that he had tested positive. He gave state contact tracers the phone numbers and names of the people in his congregation.
After two weeks, on the day he was supposed to end his isolation, he was taken by ambulance to the ICU at Cape Cod Hospital.
Breathing was excruciating, he said. Deep breaths felt like torture, so he concentrated on small, slow sips of air. At night, the symptoms got worse. He could not sleep or lie down. “I would not wish that on anyone,” he said.
After a day in the ICU, he was sent home and told to return if his symptoms grew worse. He felt, Brown said, that he was going to die.
But he did recover at home, with Carlene’s care.
When Brown returned to the pulpit, he told his story to his largely Jamaican congregation. He urged everyone to get vaccinated. About 10 of the people in his church, including one child, also came down with the virus, he said.
By now, he said, nearly everyone he knows has been vaccinated. With the Delta variant causing new infections, he plans to stay on message.
Brown said that Pat Nadle, the executive director of Outer Cape Health Services, contacted him last week in an effort to provide Covid education to his community. He said he is arranging for Nadle or another staff member to attend a Sunday service and talk about all the reasons to be vaccinated.
Nadle could not be reached for comment before this week’s deadline.