In an effort to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to residents 75 and older, the Baker administration plans to begin this week allowing anyone who accompanies an eligible senior to one of the state's mass vaccination sites to receive a shot themselves.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the new accommodation for trusted family, friends, neighbors or caregivers to get vaccinated along with vulnerable seniors came after consultation with councils on aging and other advocates for older adults.
Companions of patients who are at least 75 years old also will be offered vaccinations at community health centers, according to the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. And they may have access at clinics run by local health departments as well, but then again, they may not.
"It’s at the discretion of the locals," writes Maddie Ribble, director of public policy and campaign strategy at the Massachusetts Public Health Association in an email. "They are allowed, but can make their own decision on whether to offer that."
Ribble says local health departments are not expecting to receive additional doses of the vaccine for companions.
Clinics run by some of the state's largest hospitals, including the Mass General Brigham network, do not plan to vaccinate people who accompany patients to their appointments.
Because not all vaccination sites will give shots to seniors' companions, people should consider calling their community clinic or hospital to confirm before booking an appointment.
While all the mass vaccination sites are handicap accessible, sites like Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park can be unfamiliar and intimidating to some, and allowing trusted companions to also get vaccinated is an effort to encourage more seniors to seek the inoculation.
Massachusetts currently has four mass vaccination sites open at Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers. The Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury is open to Boston residents and being operated by the city, but will soon transition to a mass vaccination site run by the state.
On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced two new mass vaccination sites: one at the Natick Mall and another at the former Circuit City in Dartmouth.
The Natick site will partner with LabCorp to begin administering 500 shots a day on Feb. 22, ramping up to as many as 3,000 doses a day. The Dartmouth location will open two days later on Feb. 24 in partnership with Curtative. The site will also have the capacity to handle 500 patients a day to start, and eventually will be able to administer 2,000 shots a day, depending on supply.
Appointments for the new sites will go online beginning Feb. 18.
With Massachusetts now receiving about 108,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines a week from the federal government, Sudders said the state will post 100,000 appointments this week, including 74,000 new appointments that will be added online on Thursday.
Thirty new retail pharmacy sites are opening at CVS and Walgreens locations around the state, and Sudders said 30,000 of the new appointments will be at pharmacies.
Earlier in the week, Baker said the mass vaccination sites were "batting about 100% in terms of vaccine allocated and vaccine administered, and they'll continue to operate at that level."
There are roughly 496,000 residents over the age of 75 in Massachusetts, including those living in long-term care facilities. Baker said Monday that roughly 200,000 in that age bracket had been vaccinated so far.
The Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that of the 1,283,700 vaccine doses shipped to Massachusetts so far, 910,412 doses had been administered, or about 70.9%.
With reporting from WBUR's Martha Bebinger and State House News Service's Matt Murphy
This article was originally published on February 10, 2021.