Massachusetts will launch a new preregistration system Friday that officials say will make it easier to book appointments at the state's mega vaccination sites.
The tool will replace the state's current booking platform for the seven sites, which has been plagued by issues since it launched. Gov. Charlie Baker's administration said more vaccine locations will be added to the system in the coming weeks.
The preregistration tool will be found at mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine when it goes live Friday, the state said Wednesday. Eligible residents will complete an online form to request a vaccine, and can select if they want to be contacted by text message, email or a phone call. They will then be notified when an appointment becomes available, and will have 24 hours to accept it before being sent back into the queue to wait for another.
Family members and caregivers will be allowed to fill out the form on behalf of older residents and others, as needed. Those who are unable to access the internet or need help to fill out the online forms can also call 211 to preregister.
Even with the new preregistration system, Baker warned residents to expect some significant wait before they receive notification of an open appointment.
"People should keep in mind that it will probably still take several weeks for eligible residents to be notified that there is an appointment available for them because we're still receiving a real limited federal supply of vaccine doses to support our efforts here in Massachusetts," Baker said during a press conference Wednesday.
Baker said the state currently has capacity to administer "two to three times" the vaccinations it currently provides, but is constrained by the number of doses the federal government ships to the state each week.
Once a person has preregistered for an appointment, that person will receive weekly updates on his or her status, Baker said. Residents also can opt out of preregistration at any time.
"We should all remember there are 170 public vaccine sites statewide that post appointments regularly," Baker said. "There are also many health care providers, hospitals and community health centers that are offering vaccines every day to their patient panels."
Asked whether residents not currently eligible for the vaccine could preregister for an appointment, Baker said they could.
"I think at this point in time, we'd prefer people to sign up if you're eligible," he said. "But if people want to sign up otherwise, you know, sure."
The new system will be operated by Google, which has created similar preregistration sites for other states. Baker said the data collected will be "owned by the commonwealth."
On Thursday, one day before the new system begins, the state expects to make more than 40,000 new appointments available for those eligible for first doses at mega vaccination sites. This will be the final time the Baker administration posts tens of thousands of appointments to the current booking platform, before switching to the preregistration system.
Baker also announced Wednesday that there will be four dedicated dates for educators, school staff and child care workers to sign up for appointments at mega vaccination sites. Those dates are March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said approximately 25,000 doses of vaccine should be available for educators on those days.
"While we are designating four specific days to help vaccinate a good portion of the 400,000 workers in this group, they will otherwise join the pool of eligible residents who can get a vaccine," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Wednesday. "It is important that we continue to provide access to other eligible groups like residents over 65 and individuals with two medical conditions."
All other vaccine providers are required to submit dates for designated educator appointments by March 16.
The move follows a request from President Biden that states prioritize vaccinating teachers so schools across the nation can reopen for in-person learning. Baker announced last week that educators would become eligible to register for vaccine appointments on Thursday.
With reporting from State House News Service's Chris Lisinski.
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