How Massachusetts Plans To Distribute Coronavirus Vaccines

In this July 27, 2020 file photo, a nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. (Hans Pennink/AP)
In this July 27, 2020 file photo, a nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. (Hans Pennink/AP)

Massachusetts has filed an interim plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines, as required by the CDC.  The state plan follows the CDC's playbook, laying out three phases of delivery as more vaccines become available, both in volume and variety.

Pfizer, one of the first four companies expected to release vaccines, said yesterday that it may submit data to the Food and Drug Administration for review by mid-November. FDA officials have said it could take weeks to review that data and determine if a vaccine is safe and effective. Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, are producing mass quantities of their vaccine in anticipation of approval.

Massachusetts says it expects to receive between 20,000 and 60,000 doses of vaccines in phase one. Priority, as suggested by the CDC, would go to health care and other essential workers who are treating COVID-19 patients or who may be exposed to these patients, as well as residents at greatest risk for severe cases of the disease. That includes patients with lung conditions such as COPD and those who are 65 or older.

The Baker administration says even 60,000 doses won't be enough to cover all of the priority groups, so hospitals and long-term care facilities will need to create their own lists of providers and patients who will be inoculated first.

The state's plan notes that not all hospitals and nursing homes may be equipped to manage and track distribution of the shots. Two of the earliest expected vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, require sub-zero shipping and storage. Both vaccines require two shots, one taken 21 days apart, the other 28 days. Massachusetts plans to use the National Guard to help skilled nursing facilities meet these vaccine distribution requirements.

In phase two, as more vaccine doses and varieties become available, Massachusetts says it will rely on community health centers to vaccinate patients of color and those in lower-income areas that have seen higher rates of COVID-19 than the state as a whole.

The Baker administration says it will work closely with pharmacies in phase two to increase vaccine distribution and may create emergency dispensing sites to reach areas not covered by hospitals or community health centers.

The state plans to track distribution of coronavirus vaccines through the Massachusetts Immunization Information System. Its website says "the MIIS is in the process of being rolled out statewide" and some doctors question whether it will be ready for this large-scale, complex, vaccination effort. The CARES Act providers some funding to expand tracking programs but national leaders say not enough.

In phase three, when there is enough medicine to vaccinate all state residents, the Baker administration says it plans to work to make sure everyone gets free shots as quickly as possible. The state says it will target areas with low vaccination rates and "develop culturally appropriate strategies to address them, including the engagement of trusted community leaders and influencers within identified communities."

Polls show that between 35% and 51% of Americans either would not get a vaccine or are hesitant about getting the shots. To address this fear and mistrust, the Baker administration's plan has a three-part communication strategy that includes messages created by an outside firm, broadcast and social media ads, and outreach to Black, Latinx, and other communities that are experiencing disproportionately high hospitalization and death rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Headshot of Martha Bebinger

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live