Massachusetts is opening coronavirus vaccine clinics to everyone eligible in phase one as of Thursday, a bit sooner than expected. That means home care nurses, therapists and personal care attendants as well as dentists, medical and nursing students and members of the clergy who see patients can now sign up for their first doses.
“The big thing is that we need more supply,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at Gillette Stadium, a mass vaccination site, this afternoon.
Dr. Paul Biddinger, who chairs the state’s vaccine advisory group, says the acceleration is a response to the widespread sense of urgency around getting more people vaccinated.
“There’s an incredible imperative to make sure that we’re getting vaccines into individuals as quickly as we possibly can,” he says.
Baker says that if President Biden makes good on his pledge to distribute 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines in the first 100 days of his administration, that would mean a 20% weekly increase for Massachusetts.
The state has 150 vaccination clinics to date, but only 36 of those are open to all eligible groups. They include pharmacies, independent physician practices and schools. Baker says more clinics and mass vaccination sites will open soon. Shots will be available at Fenway Park as of February first.
Some sites with extra doses had already started vaccinating home care workers, dentists and others in the final stages of phase one. But clinic directors who’ve waited for the state’s go-ahead are frustrated.
Dr. Sheena Sharma, who is organizing the vaccination clinic at Webster Medical Center, says only 150 people have registered for the 650 doses she is scheduled to begin delivering this weekend. Many of those who’ve signed up are among the people who’ve just officially become eligible.
Sharma says the state should expand eligibility to older residents now, and give providers flexibility because the need in Webster may be different than in more urban communities.
“They’re doing things ridiculously slowly,” Sharma says. “Don’t try to hold us back so that Quincy or Chelsea or anywhere else can catch up.”
Vaccine hesitancy may be one reason sign-ups are slow in some areas. Gilbert Dillard, a personal care attendant in Springfield, says he’s heard the fears and tries to reassure people.
“Even though it came out so fast, our technology has come to a point where the science is correct, and I believe in the science,” says Dillard, who works part-time after a career in the military.
He expects to sign-up right away.
“I can’t wait to hug my mom,” Dillard says.
Rebecca Gutman with 1199SEIU says enthusiasm about the vaccine is growing as home health care workers see others in health care get their first and second doses.
“And frankly for the last couple of weeks all anybody wants to talk about is when and where they can get the vaccine,” says Gutman, the union’s vice president for home care.
Home care workers and others must bring some proof of their employment to a vaccination site, such as an employer-issued ID or a recent pay stub and a photo ID. Personal care attendants who are hired directly by their clients are to complete a form, online, attesting to their employment.
Dentists, who urged Baker to make them a higher priority, say they can help now with the state’s vaccination campaign.
“Dental teams are ready to go, we are ready to support them,” says Dr. MaryJane Hanlon, president of the Massachusetts Dental Society. “We’re setting up trainings so they can help support their colleagues in medicine.”
While some states have begun offering vaccines to all residents 65 and older, Massachusetts has not yet taken that step. Baker’s office says the administration is still reviewing the CDC guidelines around expanding access to older residents.
Under the current state plan, people 65 and older who do not have pre-existing conditions would not be eligible for vaccines until some time next month, at the earliest.
Massachusetts is still in the bottom half of states based on the percentage of residents who’ve received their first coronavirus vaccine dose. But Baker says with vaccines reaching more people, a drop in the positive case rate and stable hospital bed numbers, he’s lifting the state’s stay-at-home advisory. And starting Jan. 25, restaurants and other businesses will no longer have to close at 9:30 p.m.
“Trends are moving in the right direction,” Baker said,” We believe it’s OK, and it’s time to start a gradual easing of some of the restrictions we put in place in the fall.”