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Mass. Expands Vaccine Eligibility To Residents 55+ Or With 1 Medical Condition05:01
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Nurse Emily Rice dispenses the Pfizer vaccine into syringes at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Nurse Emily Rice dispenses the Pfizer vaccine into syringes at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Starting Monday, Massachusetts will allow anyone 55 and older or with one qualifying medical condition to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, the latest effort to expand the pool of people eligible to receive the vaccine.

Massachusetts residents previously had to be 60 or older, have at least two medical risk factors, or work in an essential field to sign up for a vaccination appointment. The state estimated the change will allow more than 920,000 additional people to qualify for the vaccine.

But because of limited vaccine supplies, the state has cautioned that it could take time for everyone eligible to sign up for an appointment. More than 1 million people are already on the state's pre-registration list for selected vaccination sites. Appointments have also filled up quickly at many local pharmacies.

"It's just so difficult to get an appointment," said Susan Howell of Boxford, who is in her mid-50s and planning to get a vaccine as soon as she can. "I'm a little unclear as to how that is going to happen.”

On April 19, Massachusetts plans to expand eligibility to all residents 16 and older. Anyone can sign up for the state's pre-registration list now, but the state said people won't receive an appointment until they become eligible.

More than one-third of residents in Massachusetts have received at least one shot and roughly one in five have been fully vaccinated, a higher percentage than most other states. But state and local groups are working to boost those numbers, particularly in hard-hit communities.

Officials at the Reggie Lewis Center vaccination site in Roxbury say they teamed up with community groups to make nearly 16,000 phone calls to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Doug Chavez, 45, who lives in Hyde Park, was among those contacted. Chavez says he qualified because of his asthma. The political strategist is scheduled to get his first shot on Monday.

"I know the vaccine is not 100%," Chavez said. "Nothing is... I will still continue to social distance in the short run and continue with my mask, but it's almost like having that extra layer of sort of security — it's a relief."

Connor Ditelberg, a 19-year-old Emerson College student, will be eligible for the vaccine starting Monday because they are considered obese.

"My weight has been something that I've been so insecure about for my entire life," they said. "It's very funny that I finally, finally, I'm getting one good thing out of it."

Ditelberg said they want to get vaccinated before returning home to visit family in the Chicago suburbs.

Dr. Ellana Stinson, associate medical director at the Reggie Lewis Center vaccine site, said she wonders whether it might take more effort to persuade many other younger people to get the shot because they may not consider the virus as much of a risk.

"I think for the younger population it's going to require us to really focus on our messaging, and just having people see that other people are doing it without any problems," said Stinson, who is also president of the New England Medical Association.

Stinson says people who are skeptical need to hear from trusted voices a simple message: The vaccines' known benefits outweigh any unknown risks.

"They are going to ... listen to those people more readily than they would some random person who's just throwing data at them."

This segment aired on April 5, 2021.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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