Sudders: Mass vaccination sites short-term solution

Says they won’t serve primary role in distribution

HEALTH AND HUMAN Services Secretary Marylou Sudders pushed back against the view that the state is going all-in on mass vaccination sites on Thursday during testimony before the Legislature’s Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

Rep. William Driscoll Jr. of Milton, the House chair of the oversight committee, asked Sudders about the “pivots” in vaccine planning over the past month. “I really want to understand more about the decision to move supply allocations away from local boards of health and toward the mass vaccine sites,” he said.

Sudders said the shift to giving people shots at mass vaccination sites is a “short-term movement” and, if all goes well and vaccine supplies pick up, the sites will serve a role but “not a primary role” in the distribution of vaccines.

She said the mass vaccination sites reflect the need for a more streamlined distribution process at a time when vaccine supplies are limited and difficult to transport in cold temperatures. After backlash, the Baker administration shifted some vaccine supplies back to local boards of health and hospitals.

There are seven mass vaccination sites throughout the state, including  Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the DoubleTree in Danvers, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, the Natick Mall, and the former Circuit City in Dartmouth

Sudders said she doesn’t view mass vaccination sites as “an either or,” and that distribution statistics indicate they currently represent only a small part of the distribution network. She said 52 percent of doses have been administered by hospitals and health care providers, 22 percent by the federal retail pharmacy program, 10 percent by boards of health, and 9 percent by mass vax sites.

Sen. John Cronin of Lunenburg said shifting vaccine away from boards of health has had a negative effect in many parts of the state. “I think that decision has had a disproportionately harmful effect on not just where I represent in north-central Mass., but communities in western Mass. and Cape Cod, and it’s created, in effect, vaccine deserts,” he said.

Sudders said the state has sharply increased the pace of vaccinations in the last month, in part because of regional collaboratives. She pointed to Berkshire and Barnstable Counties as “shining examples” where the regional collaborative approach — which includes local boards of health — have been successful.

Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro pointed out that collaboratives are local efforts.

“This is not a state-supported or a state-funded grant effort to pull people together. This is me and my legislative colleagues, get on the phone with the CEO of Cape Cod Hospital, getting on the phone with the community health centers, pulling in Barnstable County, calling up elder services, our ASAP (Aging Services Access Point) and making these things happen,” he said.

He noted that while Baker had earlier expressed his admiration for local boards of health reaching out to homebound seniors, he was at the same time hampering their efforts by taking away their ability to proctor the shot.

“I think we want to understand this because we want to be able to communicate expectations to the public,” Cyr said.

During her testimony, Sudders also revealed some urgent care centers have been disenrolled from the vaccination program because they weren’t reporting data to the state or following the prioritization schedule.

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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.

“Basically, if you went into some of the urgent care places, they were just, ‘We opened up a vial. Would you like to have a vaccine?’ which completely contradicts the public trust,” she said.

Sudders did not name the disenrolled urgent care centers.