Baker defends vaccine rollout; those 65-plus moved up

Sticks by his decision to target specific groups for shots

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Monday continued to defend the state’s slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout even as he announced plans to expand the number of inoculation sites and moved residents 65 and older up in the vaccination line.

At a State House press conference, Baker addressed growing impatience over the pace of vaccinations by blaming the federal government’s disjointed allocation to states. He also said all the vaccines the state is receiving are being distributed to those who administer the shots.

“Virtually all the vaccine that we have received as a Commonwealth has been distributed to either the long-term care community through the pharmacy program or to providers – both community providers, hospitals, congregate care settings, and others – to begin the process of either first dosing people or second dosing people,” said Baker.

“One of the things everybody should remember here is that people keep scoring this as if this is a one-dose vaccine. It’s not. Everybody who gets a first dose needs to get a second dose,” he said.

The governor also said groups of people and workers his administration prioritized during Phase 1, including those in long-term care facilities, are sometimes more difficult to inoculate, which can slow the process.

“I get the fact that by choosing a number of very targeted communities and populations that we felt we should start with would create a slower rollout and a slower ramp-up than you would see where you just took big groups by age and said ‘go.’ But I do believe at the end of the day, we made the right decision out of the gate,”’ he said.

Massachusetts ranks in the bottom half of the 50 states when it comes to number of vaccine doses administered per capita according to federal data, and lags behind all other New England states, despite having what the state often touts as the best healthcare system in the world. Just over 360,000 of the state’s 5.8 million adults have been given at least a first-dose, leaving 5.44 million more.

Baker said the state has been trying to navigate what doses are incoming so it can make “appropriate decisions with high degrees of confidence that the vaccine we put out the door for first doses will work and that we won’t need them for second doses.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said a lot of effort is focused on coordinating the timing of deliveries. “We’ve made it very clear,” she said. “We put out a guidance last week, that you have 10 days from the time you receive to administer.”

Boston, MA. – January 25: Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders speaks to the media on the COVID-19 pandemic at the State House on January 25, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ Boston Herald)

Baker on Monday announced a plan to have 103 public vaccination sites open by the end of the week (and 165 by mid-February) and his administration has posted a Google map of the proposed locations and a website that includes eligibility requirements and information on how to make appointments for shots.

Residents 65-74 are also being bumped up from the end of Phase 2 of the vaccination schedule to the second spot, joining those with two or more comorbidities just behind the first priority group – those 75 and older.

The elevation of those over 65 has the effect of delaying vaccinations for early education and K-12 workers, and those who work in transit, grocery, utility, food, agriculture, sanitation, sectors, public works, and public health workers. Some members of those groups, particularly teachers, have been pushing for earlier vaccinations.

Sudders said moving up those 65-74 would help “protect vulnerable populations and ensure the equitable distribution” of the vaccine and is in line with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Phase 2 is set to begin on February 1 and last into March.

Baker’s office said the state has the capacity to administer 242,000 doses per week, “significantly more” than the 173,175 first and second doses expected from the federal government this week.

“We can only move as fast as the federal government shifts vaccines to the Commonwealth,” said Baker. “Our goal remains the same: to provide our healthcare system with the support that they need to protect our most vulnerable residents and to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine to all residents.”

Almost 360,000 doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines have been administered so far, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard, which was updated last Thursday. While that number has taken place over almost six weeks, Baker wants to vaccinate a large chunk of that number of people in a single week.

By mid-February, Baker said vaccine sites will be able to administer 305,000 vaccinations per week, which is more than the 189,640 doses that the Commonwealth expects to receive from the federal government that week. “The capacity to vaccinate is not the same as shots administered. Capacity is what we plan to have the sites’ staff and logistics in place to do,” Baker said, leaving room for changes in the future.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The number also lags begin the cumulative total number of vaccines received by the state. which is over 591,000.

Part of the ramp-up will include the creation of three new mass vaccine sites to go with those already announced at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. They will be located in Springfield at the Eastfield Mall (January 29), Double Tree Hilton in Danvers (February 3), and the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury (first week of February).