We need a plan to speed up vaccinations; the following is one approach to consider

Bill Walczak

Covid, the No. 1 killer in the country, is preventable with a vaccine. Massachusetts is one of the world’s great centers of medicine and research, home to four outstanding medical schools and several of the world’s greatest teaching hospitals, along with hundreds of organizations that practice health care. Some 18 percent of the jobs in metropolitan Boston are in health care.

Yet, as of Feb. 1, Massachusetts was ranked 41st of the 50 states in percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered. The Centers for Disease Control reported that the state had received 1,060,900 vaccine doses as of Jan. 31, but had used only 57 percent of that allocation in putting 608,947 doses in people’s arms. Our vaccination rate is lower than 40 other states. Records show that 6.7 percent of Massachusetts residents have had one dose; 1.7 percent have completed both, and 451,953 doses were yet to be used.

We’re in a race to get the vaccine under control, to reduce the opportunity of the virus to mutate and be more virulent, to prevent the spread of the virus to millions and prevent the deaths of many more thousands. The chief way to do that is to get the vaccine into people’s arms as fast as possible so we can build to herd immunity quickly.

Assuming that Gov. Baker and Secretary Sudders can create enough vaccination sites and staff them, and that President Biden can deliver enough vaccine for every American, here’s a plan to improve our state’s poor national standing:

Create a deadline for vaccinating everyone. We value what we measure. We need to choose our finish line date, then determine how many doses need to be administered each week, and hold ourselves accountable for achieving that goal, with regular reports to the Commonwealth. I propose August 30, 2021. It’s ambitious, but possible.

Be flexible with our plan. Yes, we should be vaccinating those in high risk categories first, but that doesn’t mean that we wait until we’re finished with those categories to move into the next ones. Some have described this problem by citing how airlines board: We call group A first, but don’t wait for every single person in A to be seated before proceeding to B, or every plane would leave late. Achieving our vaccination goal will require efficiency, which means having enough flexibility in our plan to ensure that there are enough patients in line, even if it means opening later categories earlier.

Provide alternative systems to engage people. We need to make it easy. It would be so helpful to have a unified health care system, such as in the United Kingdom, but we don’t. Our fragmented system requires us to have both website appointments and phone-in ones, and as many community vaccine sites and mega sites as needed. We can ask physicians to retrieve vaccine from central repositories for administration to their patients, set up as many mega and community sites as needed, and quickly train more health workers to give the doses.

Tailor the message and the outreach. The Commonwealth needs an excellent public information campaign to assure those who have doubts about the vaccine that they are safe. People of color have been victimized by medical experimentation in the past, and many have every reason to question taking the vaccine. Drawing on the large talent pool of people of color in leadership roles in medicine, clergy, education, politics, and science who worked to create the vaccine, a public information campaign would help the community understand that the vaccine is about the safety of their families and communities. We need those leaders fully supported and engaged in designing and delivering this campaign.

There’s a lot riding on getting this done as soon as possible. Our economy will only rebound when the virus is dispatched and schools and childcare facilities can be fully open. Our collective mental health could surely use a victory.

That means that we cannot miss any opportunity to vaccinate. The last week of January had 111,901 doses administered in Massachusetts. We need 420,000 per week, starting Feb. 1. The race is on.