Starting Monday, COVID-19 vaccine-seekers in Massachusetts will be able to get their shots at six of the state's mass vaccination sites without first booking an appointment.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that the six sites — at Boston's Hynes Convention Center and Reggie Lewis Center, the Natick Mall, the former Circuit City in Dartmouth, the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield — will begin accepting walk-up appointments, as a way to make it easier for people to access vaccines.
People will still be able schedule appointments online, and the state's vaccine finder website will also host information about walk-in hours, Baker said during a visit to a vaccine clinic at the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett.
"This could be a great new chapter to the program overall, and paired with that targeted community-based effort that we're pursuing like this one here at Encore, we should be able to reach many more of our residents and build on the national-leading success we've had in distributing vaccines so far, which will help us further reopen our economy, protect our communities, and fundamentally provide a safe solution to so many people here in Massachusetts so that we can get back to normal," Baker said.
The news comes a day after President Biden announced he would direct all pharmacies participating in the federal vaccination partnership to begin providing walk-in hours, and said that the White House was "encouraging our state and local partners to have a walk-in ability as well to the sites that they run."
The Monday launch of walk-in vaccines will also fall three weeks after the Baker administration broadly opened up access to vaccines to anyone 16 or older in Massachusetts.
Baker said some other vaccine sites in Massachusetts, particularly pop-up clinics, have already been offering shots on a walk-up basis.
More than 2.66 million people in Massachusetts were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and more than 3.65 million had received at least one shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, according to DPH data.
Earlier this week, Baker outlined a shift in the state's vaccine-distribution strategy that involves moving away from a focus on the mass sites in favor of targeted, community-based efforts including regional vaccine sites, mobile clinics and primary care providers.
"Our wastage of vaccines continues to be one of the lowest in the country at .085%, so even the more we go out to multiple sites, we are getting every shot into people's arms," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said.
Sudders said that as the state moves into its next phase of vaccination, it will "continue to strengthen our outreach and increase resources to our communities to ensure we make contact with under-resourced people and reduce barriers to getting the vaccine."
The Encore clinic is part of a regional collaborative involving nine communities north of Boston, Cambridge Health Alliance and Tufts University.
Sudders said Cambridge Health Alliance "has never wasted one dose," calling that "pretty amazing."
Cambridge Health Alliance CEO Dr. Assaad Sayah described dose management as a matter of logistics.
"All centers really know how many people have appointments, and by early in the afternoon, we can predict how many doses we need, so we don't open additional vials until last minute," he said.
Sayah said the Metro North COVID-19 Vaccination Partnership is also in the process of launching a mobile vaccination program, and encouraged everyone to get the shot.
"That's the only way we can get past and beyond this," he said.
Sayah serves with Michael Curry of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers as co-chairs of the state's health equity task force, created under a 2020 law to make recommendations addressing the disparities illuminated by the pandemic. As of a month ago, the panel's members were still reviewing final recommendations despite a Feb. 28 deadline for their report.
Baker said Wednesday that mobile vaccine clinics "have played a key role in many of our equity policies so far," and that 61% of those vaccinated at the mobile units have been people of color.
One of 20 municipalities targeted by the state's equity and outreach initiative, Everett is in line to see its dose allotment double as the state transitions its vaccination approach.
Sudders said that Everett, like other "priority communities," has its own dedicated community liaison from the Department of Public Health, and that the city also has trained teams reaching out to their neighbors about the vaccination.
"These community teams have knocked on over 3,000 doors and made 2,000-plus phone calls to Everett residents alone, encouraging them to get the vaccine," Sudders said. "They've hosted 16 visibility events and handed out more than 2,000 brochures and flyers. This week, there's five scheduled — it's like political canvassing, except it's vaccine canvassing — there are five scheduled door-knocking events and three events scheduled across Everett to increase vaccine awareness."
This article was originally published on May 05, 2021.