Virus notes: Crowding at the top of Phase 2

Groups keep getting moved up, pushing others down

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION is continuing to move people higher in the vaccine line, forcing those down below to wait longer and longer.

First it was people between 65 and 74, who got bumped up from the end of Phase 2 to the second spot, joining those with two or more comorbidities just behind the first priority group – those 75 and older.

Then on Wednesday Baker elevated another very fluid group – allowing anyone who accompanies someone 75 and older to a mass vaccination site to also be inoculated. There are about 200,000 people left in the 75-plus group who could be vaccinated, which means 200,000 of their companions – young or old, even from out of state – could also get the shots.

And Baker also indicated he may give a boost to another group – those with asthma – by designating the disease as one of the comorbidities that could qualify people to go sooner rather than later. More than 500,000 people in Massachusetts are believed to have asthma.

Attorney General Maura Healey and US Rep. Ayanna Pressley have been urging Baker to list asthma as a comorbidity or underlying condition, in part because people of color tend to have asthma in greater numbers. Baker on Wednesday said he will make a decision on asthma by Friday.

Individuals with two or more underlying conditions can get the vaccine along with the 65-plus age group. Those with just one underlying condition fall in the fourth Phase 2 group.

The state’s current policy on underlying conditions mirrors the guidance of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which doesn’t consider asthma a comorbidity like cancer or a history of smoking. Under the state’s current approach, someone with asthma would have to wait for Phase 3 along with the rest of the general public.

Baker is also refusing to say when those 65 and above will get their turn. Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services, said on Wednesday that it would be “several weeks” before the state moves on to those 65 and above, and Baker gave a similar vague estimate. He said he wanted to spend more time trying to vaccinate those who are 75 or 80 before moving on to those 65-74.

“These communities are far more likely to lose their life or get hospitalized due to COVID,” he said. “We want to make it as easy as we can for them.”

Essential workers, including teachers, transit workers, and sanitation employees, come in the group behind those 65 and above. Many members of that group, particularly teachers, have been grumbling about being pushed down in the vaccine pecking order.

Too early to do vaccination scorecard

Gov. Charlie Baker said it’s difficult to say how the state is doing in vaccinating residents, in part because the numbers keep moving.

He said there are still health care workers and first responders coming to the state’s mass vaccination centers, even though Phase 1 of the vaccination process is technically over.

He said CVS and Walgreens are inoculating residents and staff at nursing homes and are in the midst of their third swing through the facilities. He said a fourth swing may be needed for people who received their first dose of the two-dose drug in the third swing through.

The governor estimated 88 percent of the residents and 63 percent of the staff at nursing homes have been vaccinated.

National Guard helping out 

Gov. Charlie Baker has been saying for close to 10 days that he didn’t need the National Guard’s help at mass vaccination sites, but on Wednesday members of the guard were working at sites in Springfield and Danvers.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Baker said the guard was brought in to help with logistics after people showing up for appointments were enduring long waits, sometimes out in the cold. “We use them when we think they can be extremely helpful to us,” Baker said.

Asked why he changed his mind about using the guard, Baker said: “Why not.”