As Massachusetts Expands Eligibility, Residents Compete For Appointments

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Registered Nurse Delia Murphy dispenses a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at the Gillette Stadium vaccination site. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Registered Nurse Delia Murphy dispenses a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at the Gillette Stadium vaccination site. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

More than 920,000 additional people became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine injection in Massachusetts on Monday, including people as young as 55 or anyone with a single risk factor for developing a severe case of the illness.

Now the race is on to snag an appointment.

Susan Howell — who owns a construction company with her husband on the North Shore — says she's exploring every avenue she knows of to find a vaccine appointment. And she's used an elaborate "cheat sheet" to help speed up her online search. But so far, no luck.

Howell said she has been signing up for open slots throughout the day — only to find they've been filled by the time she finishes. She’s planning to log back on at 11 p.m. tonight because she heard there will be less competition for appointments late in the evening.

But others had better luck.

Connor Ditelberg, 19, heard from fellow Emerson College students that there was a new vaccine bot on Twitter. Ditelberg followed the account this morning, and almost immediately learned Tufts Medical Center had 57 slots open.

"It took a little bit of frustration because every time I would click a time, it would be like, oops, the time not available anymore," they said. "But I was able to snag an appointment for the 16th."

A WBUR reporter tried the bot himself and quickly found another opening at a hospital in Lawrence. But by the time he filled in his insurance and other information, the appointment had vanished.

The pool of people competing for the slots has gradually expanded over time.

As of Monday, people 55 and older — or with a single medical condition — are now eligible. The state has also gradually expanded the number of risk factors on the eligibility list, including anyone considered overweight. People in certain essential jobs are also eligible, including nurses, teachers and health care workers. On April 19, the state plans to open vaccinations to all residents 16 or older.

But there are already 1 million people on the state's pre-registration list for slots at the state's large vaccination clinics, and appointments can sometimes be difficult to find elsewhere.

Overall, more than one-third of the state's residents have received at least one shot and about one in five have been fully vaccinated, better than most other states.

On Monday, Wayne Johnson, a technical writer who lives in West Barnstable, said he was able to get a slot at Tufts Medical Center. But he wishes it were easier.

"I was talking to people last week about how they were scurrying," Johnson said. "And it just seems like everybody's fighting each other to get a vaccination."

This segment aired on April 5, 2021.


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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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