Companion ads stir concerns, pushback
21 reps urge Baker to scrap the program
“ADULTS 75 yrs and older — Need a ride to your vaccine?” read the headline of the Craigslist ad.
The ad was one of many popping up on websites a day after Gov. Charlie Baker announced that 75-year-olds making appointments to get a COVID-19 vaccine could bring along a companion, who could also get inoculated even if it wasn’t their turn.
With demand for the vaccine far outstripping the supply, those who want to get inoculated but are far down the line began pitching their services to those in the 75-plus crowd who could make it happen.
CommonWealth anonymously emailed the person who placed the Craigslist ad. “Figured this would be a win/win as I could help someone and in turn get the vaccine myself,” he responded. “Let me know if that makes sense and I can help you sign up and drive you wherever you need to go.”
There were several similar ads on Craigslist, Facebook, and other websites. One posted from Cambridge said: “In search of a senior who wants a vaccine! I will pay you $100 to book with me instead of those other posts…” The person, who has not yet responded to press comments, offered to drive anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to whatever location they wish.
Gov. Charlie Baker, at a press conference at the East Boston Community Health Center, said similar ads have come to the administration’s attention.
“We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already, with some people going online trying to get seniors to bring them to a vaccination site or in some cases asking to be paid to drive somebody to one,” Baker said.
The governor emphasized that the buddy program was set up to help those over 75 worried about visiting one of the state’s seven mass vaccination centers, and urged seniors to be careful about who they select as their companion. He said those over 75 should not consider offers from someone they don’t know or trust and they should report contacts from strangers to the authorities.
A group of 21 state representatives urged Baker to shelve the companion program at least until more priority groups are vaccinated. In a letter to the governor, the lawmakers said the buddy program had the potential for abuse, unfairly moves young, health ypeople to the head of the vaccination line, and exacerbates the racial divide that COVID-19 has exposed.
“The vaccination plan, and the latest companion vaccination strategy, benefits families that have a reliable car, those who can take time off of work, and those who don’t have other work, familial, or health obligations,” the lawmakers said. “In other words, the companion system is most likely to benefit residents who are white and more affluent. This only further exacerbates our state’s health inequities and the burden of COVID-19 on our Black and Brown communities.”
Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell also raised concerns about the racial implications of the companion policy. “We know the health disparities — Black people, especially Black men, often don’t make it to 75,” she said in an emailed statement.
The lawmakers said the companion program has the potential to move thousands of healthy adults to the head of the line. The legislators said one senior could help two healthy adults get vaccinated by taking one along for the senior’s first shot and a second for the second shot. State officials have said companions who come along on one visit and get vaccinated would be allowed to get their second shot.
“As it stands, those aged 30-49 and 50-69 years have the highest vaccination rates among all other age groups, likely driven by the fact that they comprise much of the healthcare and first responder workforce that was vaccinated in Phase 1,” the House members said in their letter. “The companion system will not distribute vaccinations across different age groups in our population and could easily put healthy adults on track to far outpace vaccination rates among those 65 and older.”
The legislators also urged Baker to stop allowing private companies to operate the mass vaccination sites and put more effort into helping local boards of health distribute the vaccine.
The lawmakers also recommended setting up a wait-list for vaccines so people in high-priority categories can fill in at last-minute appointments if a vaccine is available. “Elders, essential workers, and people with comorbidities could be prioritized in this wait list system,” they said.Baker has shown little interest in a wait-list system and on Thursday emphasized that could lead to problems. “If you don’t have an appointment, you won’t get a vaccine,” he said.
The lawmakers who signed the letter to Baker included Reps. Tami L. Gouveia of Acton, Peter Capano of Lynn, Michelle Ciccolo of Lexington, Mike Connolly of Cambridge, Carol Doherty of Taunton, Michelle DuBois of Brockton, Nika Elugardo of Boston, Carmine Gentile of Sudbury, Jim Hawkins of Attleboro, Natalie Higgins of Leominster, Vanna Howard of Lowell, Sally Kerans of Danvers, Jack Lewis of Framingham, Joan Meschino of Hull, Christina Minicucci of North Andover, Tram T. Nguyen of Andover, Steve Owens of Watertown, Maria Robinson of Framingham, Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Adam Scanlon of Attleboro, and Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville.