Move comes amid outcry over slow pace of vaccine rollout
Governor Charlie Baker and his team said Monday that people aged 75 and over will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting Feb. 1, and that there’ll be 165 vaccination sites statewide by mid-February.
Baker’s announcement followed a recommendation by federal officials, including the new Biden Administration, to give higher priority to seniors as the vaccine rollout expands and amid growing complaints about the slow pace and rigid priorities of the Massachusetts vaccination program.
Under the new priorities, residents over 65 will be eligible to be injected with shots in phase two, which is set to start some time in February, after those 75 and over and people with two or more chronic health issues, known as co-morbidities, that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
That would make them eligible before state residents with one co-morbidity and some essential workers such as teachers, transit, grocery, utility, food and agricultural employees as well as sanitation, public works, and public health workers, who would be vaccinated later in phase two.
“But we can only move as fast as the federal government shifts vaccines to the Commonwealth,” Baker said Monday during his regular State House press conference. “Our goal remains the same: to provide our healthcare system with the support that they need to protect our most vulnerable residents and to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine to all residents.”
He urged the public to visit mass.gov/covidvaccinemap to see when they’re eligible and to book appointments.
“Again, beginning on Feb. 1, adults 75 and over will be eligible to get vaccinated,” Baker said. “Residents aged 75 and older will be able to make their appointments online beginning Wednesday though sites on our vaccination map.”
The governor also detailed some new vaccination sites; a mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough recently opened, and a second site is slated to open Feb. 1 at Fenway Park.
In addition to those two, Baker said, mass vaccination “sites will open in Springfield, Danvers and Roxbury.” The Eastfield Mall in Springfield opens Jan. 29, followed by the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in Danvers on Feb. 3 and the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury during the first week of February, Baker’s office said in a statement.
“We’ll have more details on this, and two additional mass vaccination sites in the near future,” Baker said. “These sites will begin vaccinating around 500 people per day, and some sites will ramp up to as many as 5,000 per day pretty quickly. with a total weekly capacity of 76,000 per week by the middle of February.”
Baker was joined at the briefing by state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who at one point discussed the changes to the priority groupings to get the 75-plus crowd into phase two of the distribution plan.
“Our changes to the phase two priority groups, as the governor and lieutenant governor have indicated, protect vulnerable populations and ensure the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Sudders said.
But she stressed, as Baker and his cabinet have done repeatedly, that the state remains dependent on the federal government for vaccine supply.
“There are many people in phase one who have waited to get the vaccine and they remain eligible to book an appointment at one of our vaccine sites,” she said, adding that “to date, 80 percent of our congregate care providers that vaccination clinics have commenced at more than 850 distinct locations.”
She added that going forward, “it is our expectation that retail pharmacy locations must prioritize Chelsea, Revere, Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury, and municipalities outside of Boston with communities disproportionately impacted by COVID.”
Michael Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, told reporters during the briefing that outreach to communities of color to vouch for the safety of the vaccine remains paramount.
“I think of the many things that we’ll talk about over the days and weeks and months ahead is that there is a reluctance in the communities where I was born and raised in Roxbury about this vaccine,” he said. “And I want to urge people to trust the science. To get the facts. To not trust the misinformation that they get on social media and that they hear from, in many cases, their home countries, their home communities, and to know the facts about this vaccine.”