Baker: Vaccine will be offered to 65-plus, higher-risk adults starting tomorrow

Massachusetts residents who are 65 and older, those with two or more medical conditions, and people in low income and senior housing will be eligible to make appointments for Covid-19 vaccinations starting tomorrow. Gov. Baker told reporters in a press conference the state’s website had 250,000 visits after the news broke earlier this morning, although individuals in the new groups won't be eligible to book appointments until tomorrow.

Due to supply constraints, it could take more than a month for all eligible groups to make a vaccine appointment, the governor added.

More than 50 percent of the state’s 75-plus population has been vaccinated to date, according to Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sudders said the state received word late Tuesday night that the supply from the federal government would increase to 139,000 first-doses per week, up from about 110,000 currently.

Phase 2 eligible medical conditions include moderate-to-severe asthma, cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions, compromised immune system, obesity and severe obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, and type 2 diabetes.

The state’s companion policy— that allows otherwise-ineligible people to get their shot if they accompany someone age 75 and older to a mass vaccination site — will continue to apply only for that age group.

The second phase of the state’s phased immunization plan will include a targeted outreach initiative in 20 cities and towns identified as the most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and a commitment of $1 million to the Mass League of Community Health Centers to support vaccine roll-out in “historically underserved communities.”

The Department of Public Health (DPH) will invest resources directly in the 20 cities and towns to increase awareness of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and to reduce barriers to vaccination by working with local elected officials, leaders in the communities and faith-based groups.

The cities and towns on the list include: Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester.

“We recognize the deep knowledge and expertise that exists in every community and our aim is to listen, respond, and work in concert to develop a customized approach for reaching as many residents as we can to increase vaccination,” said Monica Bharel, Public Health Commissioner, in a statement.

Under the initiative, qualified health centers can apply for $25,000 grants via the MA League of Community Health Centers to assist Community Health Workers (CHW) to engage patients and community members in vaccination discussions to increase vaccine uptake in the Commonwealth’s hardest-hit communities.

In a joint statement released today, Senators Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rebecca Rausch and Representatives Liz Miranda and Mindy Domb criticized the Baker administration for not delivering on vaccine equity sooner, but saying the new efforts have come “better late than never.”

“This afternoon’s announcement by the Baker-Polito Administration shows a recognition that targeted outreach efforts are desperately needed to speed vaccination in the communities hardest hit by COVID—something we welcome as “better late than never.” But the announcement is exasperatingly short on specifics,” they wrote in a statement.

“How much money will be put behind this initiative? Who will have direct, day-to-day responsibility for its implementation? Will it include a mobile vaccination or transportation assistance component, as public health experts have urged? What is the timeline for standing up the programming? How will people actually sign up for or otherwise get access to vaccination appointments? The Administration has had months and millions of dollars available to plan an effort like this—and, most recently, weeks since the outcry began about the absence of such an initiative. The dire situation for people on the ground demands more than a vague sketch and buzz words.”

“There are seeds of a good initiative in this announcement. The problem is that Black, brown, low-income, and vehicle-less Bay Staters don’t need ‘seeds’ at this point; they need a full-grown plan with real money, real personnel, real leadership, and real commitments behind it.”

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