Virus notes: Mass vax sites to offer walk-up appointments 

Massachusetts boasts low rates of wasted doses 

IN A SIGN of the vastly increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines, six mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts will begin offering walk-up vaccination appointments. 

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the Doubletree Hotel in Danvers, the former Circuit City in Dartmouth, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and the Natick Mall will all open their doors to walk-ups by Monday. The only mass vaccination site not to allow walk-ups will be Gillette Stadium. 

“The walk-up option will make it easier for people to access vaccines,” Baker said at a press conference after touring a vaccination site at the Encore Boston Harbor casino, run in conjunction with Cambridge Health Alliance. Baker noted that on one day, Cambridge Health Alliance had around 40 appointments booked, but 700 people walked in. 

The state’s vaxfinder website was already updated Wednesday to say that walk-ins are being accepted seven days a week at the mass vaccination sites. The sites were advertising thousands of available appointments. 

The ease of walking into a mass vaccination site to get a shot is a marked difference from just one month ago, when the mass vaccination sites were limited to users of the state’s preregistration website, and appointments elsewhere were being snapped up within minutes. 

It likely reflects the fact that 70 percent of Massachusetts’s eligible adult population has already received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Supply has also been ramping up. 

Early on, state officials had noted the logistical difficulties of allowing walk-ins given that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be deep frozen, then used within hours of being thawed. Dr. Assaad Sayah, CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance, said his organization can predict by early afternoon how many people will arrive by the end of the day. If there are a few doses left over at the day’s end, the organization has a list of standbys, who will be called to get a shot.  

We’ve been very successful to not waste any doses based on this,” Sayah said. 

Baker earlier this week announced plans to direct more doses to local communities while winding down operations at four of the mass vaccination sites by the end of June. For this week, Baker said mass vaccination sites will get 118,000 doses, down slightly from 120,000 last week. Vaccine allocations will increase to hospitals (153,000, compared to 138,000) and regional collaboratives and local boards of health (91,000 compared to 68,000). There will be 130,000 doses sent to retail pharmacies directly from the federal government, up from around 120,000 last week. 

“We have some of the lowest vaccine hesitancy rates in the country, but still we want to provide more opportunities for people to conveniently get access to the vaccine wherever they might be,” Baker said.  

Waste rates 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, at Wednesday’s press conference, touted the fact that Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of wasted vaccine doses in the country. The state has wasted just 0.085 percent of its allocated doses. 

Sudders said she expects that to continue even as the state moves away from mass vaccination sites into smaller community clinics. “As we go out to multiple sites, we’re getting shots into people’s arms,” she said. 

Kaiser Health News recently reported that most of the wasted doses nationwide have been by CVS and Walgreens, which have contracts with the federal government to distribute the federal supply of vaccine. According to that story, the CDC recorded 182,874 wasted doses as of late March, of which CVS was responsible for half and Walgreens for 21 percent. 

Teen vaccines 

Pfizer officials have said they expect the US Food and Drug Administration to approve the use of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, potentially as soon as next week. “The feds have been clear that until a decision is made by the [FDA] review board, they won’t be delivering any kind of information to us around distribution protocols or that kind of thing,” Baker said. 

Baker said there are around 410,000 children in Massachusetts ages 12 to 15 age. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Asked whether the state might require school-age students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Baker said he is “a long way away from making a decision about that.” While the state mandates multiple vaccines for school-age children, Baker reiterated that he would rather pursue “incentive policies” and make it easier for people to get the shot than force them.