The second phase of Massachusetts' coronavirus vaccine rollout officially began Monday — but a snowstorm throughout the state is causing some schedule changes. Under phase two, Monday is the first day residents aged 75 and older become eligible to begin receiving vaccinations.
Gov. Charlie Baker said vaccination locations will reach out to people with appointments to reschedule if necessary. He also said people who are unable to keep their appointment due to the weather can reschedule.
The Reggie Lewis Center in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, which was supposed to open Monday as a mass vaccination site for residents age 75 and over, will not open because of the storm, the Boston Public Health Commission announced. Appointments that were scheduled for Monday will automatically be rescheduled for Feb. 8, the city said in a tweet.
Mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park are open, but with some changes, according to CIC Health, which is operating both sites. The Fenway Park site opened an hour early, and people with morning appointments were asked to show up an hour early. People with afternoon appointments were asked to show up in the morning. The Gillette Stadium site opened, but anyone with an appointment scheduled after 3 p.m. will receive an email to reschedule for later this week.
Vaccine Rollout And Sign-Ups
The mass vaccination sites open around Massachusetts had a "very good week" last week, Baker said during a Monday press conference, and he predicted that it's going to be "a very good week this week too."
A good week might be just what Massachusetts needs as the vaccine becomes available to more residents after the rocky early weeks of the rollout. As of Sunday morning, the federal government had distributed 1,060,900 doses of vaccine to Massachusetts and the state had administered 579,181 doses or about 55%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
After a torrent of criticism last week about the decentralized nature of the state's vaccine sign-ups for people 75 or older who just recently became eligible, Baker said his administration would open a call center this week to help book appointments for those who cannot or do not want to use the state's website.
Asked Monday about progress toward a call center, Baker reiterated that it "will be stood up this week" and said he will "probably have more to say about that on Wednesday and Thursday."
Count Sen. Eric Lesser among those interested in what Baker might have to say. Lesser tweeted Monday with a series of questions about Baker's call center, including whether it will be staffed with enough call-takers to prevent long holds, whether callers will be connected to a human or robot, which languages the service will be available to accommodate and whether people will be able to schedule a vaccine appointment with one call. (Lesser was among a number of state lawmakers last week calling for a more streamlined sign-up process.)
Last week, Baker said he had no doubt that his administration would be able to run an effective call center.
"We've been staffing call centers since this pandemic began and we've been staffing them in a pretty big hurry, in many cases, on some fairly complicated topics," he said Thursday. "We're pretty good at it. We're late, but we're pretty good at it. I don't worry about whether or not the call center will be able to serve people appropriately. It will."
On Monday, Baker also indicated his administration has been making changes to the vaccination website. Baker said the website, which displays a map of various vaccination sites across the state and provides a way for residents to get in touch with one near them to make an appointment, now walks people through the process of determining whether or when they are eligible to be vaccinated and allows people to search the map by geography, "if that's what they're interested in."
Unlike some other states, the Massachusetts website does not allow people to directly register to get a vaccine. But Baker said Monday that his team has been exploring what other states do with their COVID-19 vaccine websites to put good ideas to use here. "We've been doing a fairly decent look at the way a lot of these sites operate and other states that are going to try to incorporate what we think of as some of the best practices into ours," he said.
Meanwhile, civil rights and Latino community groups are calling for equity in how the state distributes the vaccine.
Lawyers for Civil Rights and the Greater Boston Latino Network said Monday they’ve sent a letter to Baker’s office and state public health agencies to call for the state to increase the number of vaccine sites in communities of color.
The organizations commended Baker for pledging to reserve 20% of the state’s vaccine supply for hard-hit communities but said the state needs to make good on that pledge by “ensuring vaccines are delivered and administered directly in minority communities, and not merely set aside.”
The letter recommends directly partnering with trusted community organizations to bring more vaccination sites to communities of color that have been hard-hit by the pandemic and to develop public health educational materials that are culturally competent and accessible to speakers of languages other than English.
"In addition to communicating accessibility information such as where and when the vaccine is available, health authorities need to directly address concerns relevant to certain communities of color and immigrant communities," the groups wrote.
The letter also recommends that vaccination sites "be free of law enforcement, including police and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement" to address immigrants' fears of having their personal information leaked to ICE.
With reporting by The Associated Press and by State House News Service's Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan.