New vaccine pre-registration system coming
Special dates for educators and staff announced
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
TWELVE WEEKS into the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that a new vaccine appointment pre-registration system his administration is launching Friday will minimize “some of the heat and some of the sting” that the current booking system has generated for frustrated users.
The system developed with Google will allow Massachusetts residents to fill out a form online or by phone placing them in a virtual line for appointments at the closest mass vaccination site, then receive an alert from the state when times are available to book.
Slots will be parceled out on a “first-come, first-serve” basis to groups that are eligible under the administration’s rollout criteria, Baker said while announcing the new tool Wednesday. Only the seven mass vaccination sites will use pre-registration at first, and officials are looking to add more locations in April.
The gap between the state’s capacity to administer doses and the number of doses it has available, Baker said Wednesday, is “a real burden for people.”
“In that context, creating a pre-registration system that makes it possible for people to register and then know where they are in the queue and that they will be notified when they are eligible and an appointment is available for them to book takes some of the heat and some of the sting out of what the supply shortage does,” he said.
The weekly shipment of new first doses to the state will not increase through the rest of March, Health and Human Services Secretary said Wednesday, remaining around 150,000. Another 95,000 first and second doses will flow this week to pharmacies participating in a federal program, plus 19,000 more to federally qualified health centers.
Announcement of the new pre-registration system on Wednesday drew a mixture of praise and wariness from lawmakers who have pressed Baker and his cabinet over frustrations with the rollout.
Rep. Bill Driscoll, a Milton Democrat who co-chairs the new COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee, said that the plan is “welcome news.”
“If implemented effectively this will provide Commonwealth residents w/ a smoother system for accessing #COVID19MA vaccine,” Driscoll tweeted. “I hope to see it expand beyond mass vax sites.”
The panel two weeks ago grilled Baker about the vaccine rollout and said they planned to call administration officials back this week. Instead, they are now eyeing the week of March 22 for a second oversight hearing, where at least one member, Sen. Eric Lesser, plans to raise questions about pre-registration appointments.
The new Google-operated site will not replace a vaccine finder tool developed by PrepMod, which was at the center of a headache-inducing website crash in February right as about 1 million residents gained eligibility to book appointments.
Baker said PrepMod would “continue to serve a number of the locally based and regionally based sites,” noting that the pre-registration site will only connect to the seven mass vaccination sites for its first few weeks.
He expressed confidence that the pre-registration site, which will go live “mid-morning” on Friday and will be accessible at https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine, will not run into the same functionality issues.
“Google has set up pre-registration sites in a number of other states,” he said. “They’ve pressure-tested what we have experienced here in Massachusetts with what they’ve experienced in other states, and they’re pretty confident that we won’t have any issues.”
All Massachusetts residents who wish to do so will be able to fill out forms on the new site, but appointment notifications will only go out to those who are eligible. State alerts will include appointments available in the following week, and participants will have 24 hours to book a slot. If they do not make an appointment in that window, they will return to the queue.
Anyone unable to use the website can also call 211 to pre-register.
“We cannot stress enough how eager older people are in Massachusetts to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which offers so much promise for a return to normalcy,” AARP Massachusetts State Director Mike Festa said in a statement. “There is incredible demand from our members for more information about when, where and how they can get a vaccine. We are very pleased that the COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line will be available to help residents without internet access or with difficulty using the internet with the preregistration process.”
On Thursday, when the roughly 400,000 educators and school staff in Massachusetts become eligible to book appointments through the state, the administration will post a batch of more than 40,000 first-dose slots at mass vaccination sites for the final time. Every appointment at one of those sites afterward will flow through the new system.
That means that all appointments on the four educator-specific days the administration announced Wednesday — March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11 — will be booked on the pre-registration platform.Sudders estimated there will be about 25,000 total slots available across those four days. The state is recommending, but not requiring, that regional collaboratives similarly set aside the days for specific educator clinics.
Baker said the administration picked teacher- and school staff-specific clinics in late March and April in the hopes that “enthusiastic projections” about federal supply come true.