|Vaccination Slots Open Up Thursday for Age 65, Certain Medical Conditions|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
01:29PM / Wednesday, February 17, 2021
BOSTON — Vaccination slots will open up Thursday for those age 65 and older and anyone age 16 and up who has at least two medical conditions.
This will expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine for another million residents — but the wait for an appointment may be long.
"It's important to remember the federal government only sends states a small amount of vaccine every week," Gov. Charlie Baker said at this daily briefing on Wednesday. "But the last several weeks, the federal government has shipped about 110,000 first doses per week, to the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
"Unless we see a massive increase in shipments from the feds, it will take us at least a month for people in these new groups to be able to book their first vaccine appointment."
The federal government has inked a deal for 200 million more doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines with a push for 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.
The state is expected to receive 130,000 first doses next week, the first increase in some time.
Baker said the state's distribution system will be prepared to expand as soon as the weekly supply increases.
"Believe me, we all know this sounds like a long time," he said. "But the demand is so much greater than the supply that we're getting at this point in time. We all remain hopeful that those numbers will increase."
More than 70,000 appointments will be available through the newly updated online registration site on Thursday morning.
Those 75 and older, health care workers and first responders, and anyone eligible in the first and second rounds are still eligible for appointments. Anyone 65 and older may now sign up and anyone 16 or older who has two or more of the following conditions:
Chronic kidney disease
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
Obesity and severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher)
Sickle cell disease
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
Baker said asthma was added outside of U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines as an issue of equity.
"It really is an environmental and economic justice issue. There's tons of studies that have been done that demonstrate that at-risk communities and communities of color have historically had higher rates of asthma child asthma, adult asthma," the governor said. "A lot of that has to do with decisions that were made years ago with respect to how people chose to build neighborhoods and communities and it's a legitimate issue, and we view that we do it as much as an equity issue as medical."
Baker said the commonwealth will use an attestation system rather than requiring residents to prove their comorbidity in order to receive the vaccine.
"It is based on an honor system," he said in reply to a reporter's question. I can tell you based on my conversations with other governors, people, for the most part, do follow the rules. Will there be examples where people don't? Maybe. But I think the overwhelming majority of folks try to be honest about this stuff."
In response to questions regarding the higher percentage of vaccinations in the state's white residents compared to its Black and Latin populations, Baker said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel would be working with 20 communities, including Springfield, identified as having "had the greatest COVID-19 burden and the greatest percentage of nonwhite residents."
Approximately 285,000 people were vaccinated last week with 250,000 75 and older receiving their first shots. Last week also, slots were opened up at mass vaccinations sites for caregivers of those 75 and older or those aiding elder citizens to their appointments. These sites included the three regional sites set up in the Berkshires.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the scheduling resource line set up on Feb. 5 has received 42,000 calls since its launch.
"They've resulted in 9,500 appointments scheduled," she said. "On average, there are 4,000 to 9,000 calls per day during the week. Last Friday, we announced the expansion of the call center for weekends. On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14, the call center averaged about 1,000 calls, each of those days."
Baker said the mass and regional collaborative sites have ween working to get the vaccine out as fast as possible, noting the Massachusetts is now No. 9 in the country in first shots per capita and No. 1 total shots per capita in states more than 5 million in population.
"The big message we got from the public was vaccinate, vaccinate and there's no question the fastest way to do this is high volume sites," he said.
But appointments will be limited to the amount of doses on hand, rather than how other states are signing people and then canceling or delaying when there aren't enough shots.
"If you have an appointment you're going to get a vaccine," the governor said.