Baker stands up vaccine call center

Comes amid slow rollout of inoculations

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER unveiled a 500-person call center on Friday to help residents 75 and older book appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The center is intended to assist those without internet access or those having trouble navigating the current two-step process, which requires using a state website to find vaccine locations near them and then going to websites for those locations to actually book an appointment. The call center, reached by dialing 2-1-1 and selecting the option for help making a vaccine appointment, will handle the booking process for the individual or put them on a call-back list if no appointments are available.

The service will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with representatives who speak both English and Spanish. Translators for over 100 other languages will also be available upon request.

“We recognize that the call center will be a better option for many older adults who may not have someone to help them book an appointment online,” Baker said Friday at a State House press conference. “We expect this call center, certainly today, will experience a very high call volume.”

Asked why the service took so long to stand up, Baker said representatives needed to be trained and able to work in multiple languages. “It took a week,” he said.

The governor said the center will not operate around the clock because he wanted more operators on at peak demand times. “Better to have a ton of people on during the day when the vast majority of people are reaching out then to spread that volume during the evening when call volume would be significantly less,” said Baker.

Baker has taken heat for not having a call center up and running when vaccination appointments for those 75 and over started being made in the last week of January. The vaccination process first started in mid-December, and at times it has been chaotic, with not enough vaccine doses to go around.

Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow has filed legislation to revamp the vaccination process, including the development of a centralized booking website. The bill currently has 62 cosponsors.

“While I am encouraged to see the governor taking some limited steps to achieve the goals outlined in our legislation, the state’s online scheduling system remains far too complex, and the jury is still out on the quality and accessibility of the phone system announced today,” said Lesser.

The senator said Massachusetts vaccination rates remain far below neighboring states, with racial and geographic disparities in access.

Over 681,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, according to Baker, and 55,000 new appointments added for next week to mass vaccination sites. About 20,000 appointments are available at the mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and Fenway Park in Boston.

Baker also announced a series of English and Spanish language TV ads that will air on Telemundo and Univision. There will also be an American Sign language video launching today. Radio spots have been placed with English, Spanish and Portuguese radio stations. A vaccine education ad will run during the Super Bowl kick off show.

A series of online ads will also be rolled out in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Cape Verdean, Haitian Creole, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.

The catalyst for the ads, said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, was a survey of 1,000 residents that focused on “motivators and barriers about the vaccine.” The majority of people who wished to “wait and see” before being inoculated tend to be people of color and those with a lower socioeconomic status.

In developing the education campaign, the administration consulted a 19-member external advisory group including community organizations, leaders from communities of color, health care providers, and local health officials.

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.

Baker seems to also be placing hopes in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been submitted for emergency use authorization to the FDA.

“If the J&J vaccine gets approved, it changes a lot of things about how fast people can get vaccinated for two reasons,” Baker said. “Number one, it’s one dose. And number two, it doesn’t need the deep freeze for storage purposes. It doesn’t have the same issues and requirements that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine have with respect to transport.”