Thursday morning, 77-year-old Joyce Jozwicki from Brookline went online to hunt for a vaccination appointment, and she found one — at Fenway Park.
"This was at 10:45 in the morning," she says. "The appointment was for 10:48. I said, 'Who cares, let’s go! It’s only a mile away.' And I grabbed my husband, and we jumped in the car."
Jozwicki had lucked into one of the very first appointments as the iconic baseball park is turned into a coronavirus vaccination venue. And she booked it at a time when many seniors have experienced frustration over the bumpy rollout of the state's vaccination sign up system. The first shots for Massachusetts residents aged 75 and older don't officially begin until Monday.
But CIC Health, the company that’s handling the vaccinations at Fenway and Gillette Stadium, says about 100 people were vaccinated at Fenway on Thursday, and about 150 are scheduled to get their shots there on Friday.
"We do this to make sure that all the systems are working, the flow is working," says Rodrigo Martinez, chief marketing officer at CIC Health.
When the Fenway vaccination site officially launches on Monday, he says, it will handle 500 people a day and ramp up the following week to more than double that. The plan is to vaccinate as many as 1,250 people every day.
"And for the size of the operation here, we think that’s going to be the right steady state volume," he says.
Instructions for parking and other logistics will go out to people the day before their Fenway appointments. By noon on Thursday, Martinez says, all the thousands of vaccination appointments slots at Fenway — and at Gillette Stadium — for the coming week had been taken.
Gov. Charlie Baker says new appointments will be added online every Thursday. Smaller venues such as neighborhood pharmacies may add openings more frequently.
Hospitals Ramp Up
Some hospitals are already testing vaccinations for patients age 75 or older as well as those at high risk for COVID. Boston Medical Center is vaccinating about 150 patients as they come in for regular appointments this week to test the hospital’s vaccination identification and notification system.
The hospital plans to continue next week and beyond, prioritizing patients based on geography and medical conditions. Patients with serious heart conditions and other ailments, and who live in Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and East Boston will go first.
“This is an equitable allocation,” says Dr. Cassandra Pierre, BMC’s acting epidemiologist. “We want to press on with due urgency to have everyone in those higher risk conditions addressed as soon as possible.”
The state’s largest hospital networks, Mass General Brigham and Beth Israel Lahey Health, are also telling older patients affiliated with them that they will be offered a coronavirus vaccine. But it’s not clear how soon. BILH, for example, has 160,000 patients who are at least 75.
“We’ve begun reaching out to eligible patients who live in communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as well as all additional eligible patients across Massachusetts on a randomized basis to schedule appointments for vaccination,” said BILH spokeswoman Jennifer Kritz in an email. “As vaccine supply levels increase, we will continue to invite additional eligible patients.”
'Wherever You Can, As Soon As You Can'
Community health centers are also just beginning to reach out to their older patients and schedule appointments — but very cautiously. Lynn Community Health Center says it did not receive any additional vaccine this week so will only open the vaccination clinic for patients who are at least 75 years of age on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
“After that, if we get no additional, we’ll close it,” says the center’s CEO, Dr. Kiame Mahaniah.
Dr. Adam Burrows says the Upham’s Corner Health Center did not receive any more vaccine this week either. Burrows says he’s ready to begin home vaccinations for patients in a program for frail elders at the health center, but that’s on hold.
For now, his message to patients is: “Access the vaccine wherever you can as soon as you can.”
It’s not clear how long the uneven nature of access to vaccines will continue. How many people can be vaccinated — and how quickly — will depend, state officials say, on how many doses they receive from the federal government.
Joyce Jozwicki from Brookline says she feels very lucky to have snagged such an early slot in the Fenway site’s soft launch, and that there was no line.
"And that the people there were just — they couldn’t do enough for you," she says. "Because I think they know a lot of us are coming in so frustrated with the whole process. And they’re doing the very best to make nice."
This segment aired on January 28, 2021.