Massachusetts Teachers Now Eligible For Vaccines on March 11

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Starting March 11, teachers, early educators and school staff members will be able to try to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments through any of the state’s 170 vaccination sites and mass vaccination sites plan to block off certain days to vaccinate educators, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday morning.

The governor’s announcement from the West Parish Elementary School in Gloucester comes as Baker and Education Commissioner Jeff Riley push for full-time, in-person education at all Massachusetts elementary schools by next month and after teachers unions ramped up a campaign backed by legislative leaders to get more of their members vaccinated sooner. One union official said teachers around the state were euphoric about the governor’s announcement Wednesday.

It also followed President Joe Biden’s decision Tuesday to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-12 teachers and staff and child care workers through the federal pharmacy program and his direction to the roughly 20 states that had not already made teachers eligible to do so.

“My challenge to all states, territories, and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” Biden said on Tuesday afternoon, adding that not every teacher would be able to secure an appointment in the first week.

By Wednesday morning, before Baker’s announcement, CVS had added K-12 teachers to the list of populations eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at its clinics, including those in Massachusetts.

Baker pointed out on a few occasions Wednesday that teachers were “next on the list” to become eligible under his administration’s plan and defended his approach that has focused on vaccinating people whose age or medical conditions “put them in significant risk of hospitalization and death associated with COVID.” But he said he would make educators and staffers eligible next week so there is no confusion “between federal eligibility guidelines and state eligibility guidelines and to coordinate with the feds.”

“I don’t want people to get confused about where they can go and where they can’t go if the federal rules associated with some of this are different. So we’re gonna move up the educator community, give them the ability to start booking appointments starting next week,” he said.

As soon as Baker made his announcement, Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken let out a loud exclamation, “Yes!”

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said Wednesday that the governor’s decision represented “a huge victory for our students, for our school employees and the entire school community.”

“As an educator of 30 years, I can tell you with confidence that educators across the state are joyful,” she said outside Watertown High School, though WCVB reported that she would not say whether she expects teachers will be back in classrooms five days a week by the early April deadline Riley has targeted.

On Friday afternoon, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will meet to hear a presentation and vote on the emergency adoption of regulatory amendments that would prioritize in-person instruction by giving Riley the authority to decide when hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards the state’s requirements for student learning hours.

The governor said there are about 400,000 teachers, early educators and school staff members who will become newly eligible for the vaccine next week. They will join everyone 65 years old or older and people with two or more certain health conditions in the competition for a limited supply of doses and appointments.

“The 65-plus group and the two health conditions group between them represent about a million residents. So far, we’ve received enough vaccine to vaccinate, so far, about one-third of the folks in that category,” Baker said. “The math on this is pretty straightforward: If we add 400,000 people on March 11 to the eligible pool, that’ll mean we’ll be back to having about a million people who are eligible to receive a vaccine. And as I said, we currently get about 150,000 first doses per week from the federal government.”

The governor said his team’s estimates are that first dose appointments should “start to cover pretty much everybody in that group about a month after they’re eligible.”

The demand for vaccine shots has vastly outpaced the supply, causing frustration and chaos as the hundreds of thousands of eligible people compete for the tens of thousands of available appointments each week.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are expected to increase their production in March and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved last week is making its way to clinics in Massachusetts and around the country, offering hope of an accelerating vaccination effort.

But Baker said Wednesday that the White House told states not to expect any substantial increase in supply until the end of March and that the state would get less of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine than it was expecting.

“Massachusetts has been notified by the feds that we’re only scheduled to get one shipment, which we got this week, of 58,000 doses for the month of March and that has been distributed primarily to hospitals, health systems, some community health centers,” Baker said, adding that the news was “a big surprise to everybody.”

Baker said Johnson & Johnson is now expected to deliver “way less than half of than what was originally presumed to be coming in the month of March” and said he’s hoping the timeline can be accelerated. If it is and the number of doses delivered to Massachusetts increases substantially, the governor said the state will be ready to put them into people’s arms.

“I can promise you this, we have plenty of capacity to put every dose we get to work,” he said.

It’s been a little more than two weeks since people 65 and older became eligible for the vaccine, and teachers were slated to be a part of the next group, which also includes other “essential workers.”

Already, other groups that were slated to become eligible for a vaccine on the basis of their occupations at roughly the same time as teachers are making their cases to be similarly moved up in the line.

MBTA workers represented by Carmen’s Local 589 said Wednesday morning that Baker “is jeopardizing their lives and public health by letting red tape and a lack of planning delay the administration of coronavirus vaccines to local bus and train operators.”

The union said the MBTA has a vaccination site established in Quincy and that workers who were given a tour of the site “hoped” that transit workers could be moved up in the state’s prioritization since the MBTA was setting up the infrastructure to vaccinate its workforce.

“We walked through the Quincy site and got the tour, and we were promised they’d have a coordinated rollout and plan where frontline transit personnel would be vaccinated in an orderly, coordinated fashion that helps ensure scheduling continuity and safety for the benefit of the riders,” union president Jim Evers said. “We are praising MBTA management for having the infrastructure in place, but it seems the Governor just isn’t paying attention so now we’re among the last frontline workers to get vaccinated. It’s a dangerous oversight by Baker, especially as schools reopen.”

Massachusetts COVID Vaccination Totals Catch Up With Infections

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

As Massachusetts enters the second month of March to be shaded by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people here who have been fully vaccinated is roughly equal to the number of people who have been infected with COVID-19 over the last year.

The equivalent of the population of Methuen — roughly 51,000 people — got their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between Friday’s report from the Department of Public Health and Sunday’s update. There are 550,000 people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday morning, compared to 550,302 total confirmed COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.

With more than 1.2 million residents having received at least one vaccine dose, Massachusetts is again beginning to reopen its economy more widely and a third vaccine approved by federal officials over the weekend could help alleviate some of the tensions that come with the limited supply of doses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization Saturday for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was developed in part by a group at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. It joins the Moderna and Pfizer two-dose vaccines in the public health arsenal and states are expected to receive an initial batch of the doses this week.

“Our healthcare leaders and clinicians see the authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a significant step forward in the effort to vaccinate residents of the commonwealth,” Valerie Fleishman, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said. “This vaccine has been shown to be highly effective in protecting against COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, and those who receive it should have every confidence that they are protected against serious illness due to COVID-19 and its variants.”

Johnson & Johnson is expected to deliver about 20 million doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine to the federal government for distribution by the end of March. The New York Times reported Monday morning that Biden administration officials speaking on background said that the company will deliver 3.9 million shots this week but none next week.

Baker said last week the combination of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine getting approval and the plans Pfizer and Moderna have to increase their production “could be a really big moment.”

On Monday, Baker said the new vaccine “will certainly dramatically boost” the state’s vaccination efforts and “should mean a big increase” in the amount of vaccine available.

On Feb. 24, Baker estimated it would take about a month, barring an increase in vaccine supply, to get through the roughly 1 million people who at that time were becoming newly eligible to receive vaccines, including the large group of residents in the age 65 and older group.

Also on Monday, Baker said about 68 percent of residents 75 and older had been vaccinated. In the long-term care sector, 90 percent of residents and about 70 percent of staff had received vaccines, he said.

As of Monday morning, Massachusetts moved back to Step 2 of Phase III of the administration’s reopening plan, which means that occupancy limits broadly increase to 50 percent for most businesses and indoor performance venues and indoor recreational activities can reopen. Restaurants no longer have a percent-based capacity restriction but must adhere to six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table and 90-minute limits.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who was the head of Massachusetts General Hospital’s infectious disease division before being tapped for her federal role, was specifically asked about Baker’s newest rules for restaurants Friday and said her agency “would really encourage people and states to not expand and release restrictions.”

“Given the trends that we’ve seen in just the last couple of days, I would say, you know, we can’t be in a place where we’re lifting restrictions right now,” she said, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “If we level off at the level of 70,000 cases a day, we are just at the level where — where we had the peak before — or base before we have the fall peak.”

Over the weekend in Massachusetts, 2,944 people were newly confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 and the state announced the recent COVID-19 deaths of 93 more people. There are 760 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Massachusetts and the state estimates that just more than 30,000 residents currently have active and contagious cases of the respiratory disease.

COVID-19 Update: FDA issues authorization for Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 test

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test, another antigen test where certain individuals can rapidly collect and test their sample at home, without needing to send a sample to a laboratory for analysis.

The QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test is authorized for prescription home use with self-collected anterior nasal (nares) swabs from individuals ages 14 and older or individuals ages 8 and older with swabs collected by an adult. The test is authorized for individuals suspected of COVID-19 by their healthcare provider within the first six days of symptom onset.

“The FDA continues to prioritize the availability of more at-home testing options in response to the pandemic,” said Jeff Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “The QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test is another example of the FDA working with test developers to bring important diagnostics to the public.”

In addition to this new prescription home test, Quidel also was issued an EUA in December 2020 for their QuickVue SARS Antigen Test which is authorized for use in laboratories certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) to perform high, moderate or waived complexity tests, as well as for point-of-care testing by facilities operating under a CLIA Certificate of Waiver.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

New Bedford man fed up with Gov. Baker’s treatment of working middle class Americans

“I think it’s time we start asking Mr. Baker what the dept of unemployment is doing with the working people’s money.

Why is it taking so long for funds to be sent to us working-class Americans? Why am I waiting 2 months for unemployment? Why after 5 weeks has an adjuster finally been assigned to me, the working-class American?

What the heck are they doing?

Listen I get it. There’s a lot of people in the same situation. I know people that have been waiting 3 months with no income that worked for years upon years and never got laid off. What the hell is going on?

Mr. Baker instead of worrying about small businesses bending the rules to try to survive I think you need to open your eyes to what the DUA is doing to the working-class Americans that reside in the state of Massachusetts. They’re dragging their feet with our benefits and we are getting tired of it.

My claim was still open from last year when COVID hit and my company didn’t know how to handle it. Since then I worked 10 months and was laid off again due to towns not giving my company permits to do the work on the roads. What the hell is going?

I speak for myself but I’m started to get really pissed off on how Massachusetts and our elected officials are handing this whole COVID thing. It’s not like it’s a new thing! It’s been a year.”-Jay Siggy.

Acushnet Fire Chief Gallagher: “This is not over yet. Remain vigilant.”

“This past Friday and Saturday we tested 106 individuals. With all testing completed, one person was found to be positive. That is a percentage positivity rate of less than 1%.

“The virus is still here. One Acushnet resident received the news this morning that none of us want to get. We wish for them a speedy recovery.

“With certain restrictions easing, please keep in mind that this is not yet over. Remain vigilant.

“This past January we would test hundreds of people on Fridays and Saturdays and make dozens of phone calls on Sunday morning. That is never easy. Let’s hope today’s one call is followed by no Sunday morning calls soon.”- Kevin Gallagher.

Massachusetts Lawmakers Confront Baker on Vaccine Rollout

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker spoke about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and engaged in a back-and-forth on the particulars of the effort with the Legislature’s COVID-19 committee for an hour Thursday, but co-chair Rep. Bill Driscoll thought the gravity of the issues residents have faced in securing a vaccine had not gotten through to the state’s chief executive.

“I just really want to stress that I think you’re missing how broken the system is right now and the approach is not working for the citizens of the commonwealth,” the Milton Democrat said as Baker prepared to log off from the hearing. “It needs to be addressed.”

Baker logged onto the Legislature’s first COVID-19 oversight hearing Thursday morning armed with statistics about the state’s improving virus conditions and his administration’s efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of more residents.

Massachusetts is tops in the nation for first doses administered per capita among states with five million or more people; the Bay State has administered more than three times more doses per capita than the European Union and more than five times more per capita than Canada; the state ranks second in the country for percentage of Black residents who have gotten at least one shot; and “much of the news on COVID is better than it’s been in quite some time,” the governor said from his ceremonial office in the State House.

That wasn’t exactly the conversation the new Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness was interested in having, though the chairs also acknowledged the improving conditions.

“Unfortunately, these hopeful figures do not tell the whole story,” Driscoll said after himself referencing recent improvements in COVID-19 metrics here in his opening remarks. “These numbers hide the confusion caused by frequent pivots and course corrections, and the daily frustrations residents face trying to access the vaccine. Residents must book their appointments on cumbersome and flawed websites and hope their internet connection is stronger than the thousands of others competing for the same batch of limited appointments. The system benefits those with time, resources, and mobility and disadvantages those most vulnerable populations that have suffered disproportionately from this pandemic. It tries to prioritize efficiency over equity.”

Baker, in his prepared remarks and in response to questions from lawmakers, cited the constraints in the supply of the two federally-approved vaccines as the primary challenge and defended his administration’s decisions to prioritize groups that other states did not, like group home residents and staff, inmates and staff at prisons and jails, and all hospital workers.

“I think many states chose to pursue a variety of different approaches to this which makes it hard to draw really broad comparisons between states,” the governor said. “As I said in my remarks, Massachusetts chose early on to prioritize a number of communities and a number of professions that weren’t prioritized in other states that did make us look, if you just based it on the numbers, like a low performer relative to many other states that didn’t focus on those hard-to-reach populations that we chose to focus on.”

More than 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Massachusetts as of Wednesday, the Department of Public Health said.

There were 1,084,888 people as of Wednesday who had received at least one dose of a vaccine — an increase of 23,553 people since Tuesday — and 433,593 people have gotten both doses of the vaccine, an increase of 18,652 people from Tuesday’s report. In all, Massachusetts has administered 1,518,481 doses of the vaccine, which is 76.9 percent of the 1,973,900 doses the federal government has shipped here.

In his prepared remarks, Baker acknowledged the frustration that many residents have experienced as they try to use the state’s website to get a vaccination appointment for themselves or a loved one but he defended the site as an important reason for the state’s vaccination numbers and suggested some of it was inevitable given that “demand outstrips supply 10 times over.”

“I understand the enormous frustration when so many people are attempting to secure a small number of appointments. However, for all its faults, people from every corner of the commonwealth have managed to book over 300,000 vaccination appointments on that site since it went live back in January,” he said. “And that does have something to do with why Massachusetts has been able to vaccinate more than a million people since the start of this effort.”

Last Thursday, as more than 70,000 appointments were to be made available to the seniors and people with multiple health complications who newly qualified for a vaccine, heavy traffic torpedoed the state’s vaccination scheduling system and website. Baker said he was “pissed off” about the fiasco and vowed that “it’s gonna get fixed.”

Though this week’s release of 50,000 vaccine appointments for eligible residents did not appear nearly as chaotic as last week’s fiasco and the Baker administration had made changes to the website and scheduling system like adding a virtual waiting room, some vaccine hunters reported estimated wait times measured in days.

The most confrontational moments during Baker’s appearance before the joint committee came during questioning from Sen. Eric Lesser, who pressed the governor on his previous comments about the website and said the rollout “has not been lumpy and bumpy” as Baker often describes it. “It has been a failure,” Lesser said.

“The biggest challenge with the website, from the beginning, has been supply and the fact that people get frustrated — and I understand why — when they can’t access an appointment,” Baker said, adding at various points during the hearing that his team plans to roll out improvements to the website as they become ready.

Lesser countered that “nobody disagrees with you that the supply is limited” but said that “it wouldn’t have made a difference” if Massachusetts had 1 million doses available and the website still crashed. He then asked Baker if his administration had conducted a “load analysis” before announcing that 1 million more people would become eligible last week.

“What happened to the website is on us,” Baker said.

Lesser asked, “Will you say sorry for the million people?”

“Of course, absolutely. Definitely. Yes, of course,” Baker said. “And it’s going to be a constant challenge going forward that we don’t have enough supply to serve the population that wants to get vaccinated. I hope at some point that’s not true anymore.”

The website and scheduling system snafu of last week and Thursday’s waiting room frustration were the latest stumbles in the Baker administration’s vaccine rollout. House Speaker Ronald Mariano has said the rollout “has been marked by both logistical and communications shortcomings” and Senate President Karen Spilka called it a “constantly changing and confusing” plan.

Complaints from residents in the earliest phases of the plan prompted changes to the appointment website, which was initially just a map of vaccination sites. The administration established a call center to help people access appointments, but only after seniors 75 or older became eligible and reported difficulties using the website.

Baker also announced a system in which anyone who brings a senior 75 or older to a mass vaccination site can get vaccinated themselves, regardless of their age or risk factors. The goal was to help ensure that those most at risk of dying from COVID-19 get vaccinated, but critics said it also effectively created black market for senior citizen companions and questioned the sudden vaccination eligibility for healthy companions.

“Frankly, I am just baffled at what we’ve been through and my experience of this is very different than the one you’ve laid out,” Sen. Cindy Friedman told Baker. “The twists and turns, the change in plans, the communication that changes depending on who you are talking to and from day to day, the utter uncertainty of how this vaccine rollout was going to roll out and is rolling out — I can say as someone who has been involved in this process, and deeply involved since last March, that even I, with all my knowledge, am completely at a loss as to what is going on at times and what is going to come next.”

Driscoll and his Senate co-chair, Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton, each asked Baker to provide the committee with specific information and various documents. Driscoll requested details on and a timeline for the website improvements Baker mentioned.

Comerford asked for a “vaccine leadership organizational chart,” a detailed picture of the hierarchy at the state’s COVID-19 Command Center, the contracts for myriad vendors the state is working with on vaccine distribution, and a detailed accounting of federal funds that have flowed to Massachusetts during the pandemic and recovery.

The governor was happy to fulfill the request for the federal aid details during Thursday’s hearing, though Comerford soon cut him off and asked that he present the information in writing so as to not take away time for lawmakers to ask him questions.

“I actually did spend a little time because I thought that might be important to you guys … $71 billion has come to Massachusetts one way or another, through the four major federal relief programs. Twenty billion six hundred thousand of that went to unemployment insurance, $27 billion of that went to the PPP program for businesses, $8 billion went to stimulus checks,” Baker said. He added after Comerford made note of the time and asked him to submit the rest in writing, “OK, either way.”

During the livestream, Driscoll also requested that Baker make time in two weeks to again testify before the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness as it embarks on a series of hearings.

“Well this one’s been so much fun, I’ll certainly look forward to coming back,” the governor said. He added, “Yeah, sure, I’ll come back in a couple of weeks. But part of the reason for that is because I recognize and understand that these challenges are ones that whether you’re in state government, local government, federal government, this thing is a bear to wrestle to the ground and we all, in our own way, have had to deal with that on behalf of our constituents over the course of the past year.”

Governor Baker Announces Plans for Continued Reopening

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that Massachusetts would advance to Step 2 of Phase III of the state’s reopening plan on Monday, March 1, and also announced its plan to transition to Step 1 of Phase IV on Monday, March 22. With public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction, including drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations, and vaccination rates continuing to increase, the Administration is taking steps to continue to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy.

The Administration also announced more than $49 million in awards to 1,108 additional small businesses in the eighth round of COVID-19 relief grants administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC). These new awards are the result of work by MGCC to engage with applicants that meet sector and demographic priorities but are missing certain documents that are necessary to be considered for an award.

Phase III, Step 2:

On May 18, 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration released a four-phased plan to reopen the economy conditioned on sustained improvements in public health data. As of October, 2020, the reopening had proceeded to Step 2 of Phase III of the plan. On December 13, 2020, in response to an increase in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations following the Thanksgiving holiday, the Commonwealth returned to Step 1 of Phase III, reducing capacities across a broad range of sectors and tightening several other workplace restrictions.

Since the beginning of this year, key public health data, such as new cases and hospitalizations, have been closely monitored and a significant decline has been documented, allowing for a return to Step 2 of Phase III, effective March 1 for all cities and towns. This includes the following updates to businesses, activities and capacities:

Indoor performance venues such as concert halls, theaters, and other indoor performance spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons

Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact (laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, obstacle courses) will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity

Capacity limits across all sectors with capacity limits will be raised to 50% and exclude employees

Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will be permitted to host musical performances; six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table and 90 minute limits remain in place

Residents must continue to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and are encouraged to avoid contact outside of their immediate households. The Travel Advisory and other public health orders remain in effect.

Gathering Changes and Phase IV Start

Provided public health metrics continue to improve, effective on March 22, all communities in Massachusetts will move into Step 1 of Phase IV of the state’s reopening plan. This will open a range of previously closed business sectors under tight capacity restrictions that are expected to be adjusted over time if favorable trends in the public health data continue. Effective on the planned advancement to Step 1 of Phase IV, the following industries will be permitted to operate at a strict 12% capacity limit after submitting a plan to the Department of Public Health (DPH):

Indoor and outdoor stadiums

Also effective on March 22, gathering limits for event venues and in public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.

Additionally, dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other events only, and overnight summer camps will be allowed to operate this coming summer. Exhibition and convention halls may also begin to operate, following gatherings limits and event protocols. Other Phase IV sectors must continue to remain closed.

COVID-19 Business Relief Grants

Today, an additional 1,108 businesses are receiving COVID-19 relief grants totaling more than $49 million in awards to help with expenses like payroll, benefits, utilities and rent. To date, the Baker-Polito Administration has awarded more than $563 million in direct financial support to 12,320 businesses impacted by the pandemic through the Small Business and Sector-Specific Grant Programs.

Each business meets sector and demographic priorities set for the two grant programs. More than half of grantees are restaurants, bars, caterers, operators of personal services like hair and nail salons, and independent retailers. Over half of the businesses receiving relief are women-and-minority-owned enterprises.

Today’s awards are the result of a process by MGCC to engage directly with applicants that met sector and demographic priorities but were missing documents necessary to be considered for an award. MGCC is continuing to work with business owners in targeted sectors and demographic groups to allow for applicants to submit necessary documents.

“Pissed Off” Baker Promises Vaccination Site Improvements

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Following the Thursday morning failure of the state’s vaccine appointment website as 1 million more people became eligible to get themselves protected against the deadly coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker took to the airwaves to pledge that the issue would be fixed.

“My hair’s on fire about the whole thing. I can’t even begin to tell you how pissed off I am,” Baker said on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” when asked about the website debacle just after noon. He later added, “This is not satisfactory … it’s awful. It’s going to get fixed and I’m going to work very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Heavy traffic torpedoed the state’s vaccination scheduling website as more than 70,000 appointments were to be made available at 8 a.m. to the seniors and people with multiple health complications who newly qualified for a vaccine Thursday morning. The state said it had not added those appointments to the system by the time it failed.

People visiting the website after 8 a.m. Thursday were met with the message that “this application crashed.” Visitors were advised to try again later. The website was back up at about 10 a.m., though some people reported persistent troubles with it.

“People are working really hard to get it fixed and we know how important it is for people to have it fixed and to be able to access all those new appointments,” Baker said on GBH. “It’s gonna get fixed as fast as it needs to get fixed and, like I said, people did a lot of work preparing for this but clearly they didn’t do enough. And I know how important it is to people to get their shots.”

Around 11:30 a.m., the state’s COVID-19 Command Center apologized for the website issues and said that some people had been able to book vaccination appointments Thursday morning through secondary websites. Baker said that was about 20,000 appointments and that 50,000 more appointments, mostly at Fenway Park in Boston and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, would be added once the site was functioning normally again.

“All appointments for mass vax sites in Springfield, Danvers, Natick and Dartmouth have been booked for the next week. More appointments for these sites will be made available next week,” a spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center said. “Additional appointments at other locations will be posted throughout the day today.”

When Baker announced Wednesday that people 65 years old or older, the residents and staff of low-income housing for seniors, and people with two or more health conditions that put them at higher risk for hospitalization or death would be able to start booking vaccination appointments at 8 a.m. Thursday, it represented roughly a doubling of the number of people eligible for the limited number of vaccine doses.

“I think the website will be in good shape for this,” Baker said Wednesday when asked if the state’s website would be ready to handle the added traffic Thursday morning.

The governor said Thursday on GBH that his administration had done a lot of “scenario planning” to prepare for the predictable influx of traffic to the website but “obviously the scenario work that was done didn’t adequately prepare the site for what happened when eight o’clock rolled around this morning.”

Thursday’s website snafu was the latest stumble in the Baker administration’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. House Speaker Ronald Mariano said the rollout “has been marked by both logistical and communications shortcomings” and Senate President Karen Spilka called it a “constantly changing and confusing” plan.

Complaints from residents in the earliest phases of the plan prompted changes to the state’s appointment website, which was initially just a map of vaccination sites. The administration established a call center to help people access appointments, but only after seniors 75 or older became eligible and reported difficulties using the website. Last week, Baker announced a system in which anyone who brings a senior 75 or older to a mass vaccination site can get vaccinated themselves, regardless of their age or risk factors. That created what is effectively a black market for senior citizen companions in Massachusetts.

The governor said Thursday that more changes are coming to the state’s vaccine distribution plan. Co-host Jim Braude asked Baker why Massachusetts hasn’t established a centralized system where people could pre-register for vaccine doses that would be distributed based on the phases of the state’s existing plans. States like Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia have reported success with similar systems and Sen. Diana DiZoglio recently filed a bill that would mandate the creation of such a centralized system here.

“We are looking at that and we’ll probably have more to say about it over the course of the next few weeks,” Baker said of the kind of system he has so far resisted in Massachusetts. “I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the details, but it’s different to do this…we have way more sites, a lot more people, it’s a little more complicated to set this up in Massachusetts the way you would set it up in a smaller state. But I do think it’s a topic of conversation and discussion among our team and we’ll have more to say about it shortly, before we get into some of the really big population groups.”

As of Thursday, about 2.1 million of the state’s roughly 6.9 million residents are eligible to be vaccinated against the coronavirus that has infected more than half-a-million people here and killed more than 15,600. Baker and other officials cautioned that it could take up to a month for everyone who became eligible Thursday to book an appointment as demand exceeds the supply of vaccine doses from the federal government.

As of Wednesday, 893,312 people in Massachusetts had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 316,302 of those people had also received a second dose, making them fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. Massachusetts had administered about 79.2 percent of the 1,158,050 vaccine doses that have been shipped here, DPH said, and administration officials said roughly half of the previous group to become eligible, people 75 or older, had already scheduled vaccination appointments.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who leads the COVID-19 Command Center, held a call with lawmakers Thursday afternoon organized by Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Denise Garlick, during which legislators were able to air their concerns with the administration.

Sudders holds similar calls twice a month for members of the Legislature to ask questions of the administration’s COVID-19 response and vaccine plan, but this week’s call came at a “shockingly timely” moment, Comerford said.

“What’s clear to me and has always been clear is that Secretary Sudders is deeply committed and has gone a superhuman distance to meet this pandemic,” Comerford said. “I heard a great deal of acknowledgment of this on the call about the secretary’s tireless work, but that was followed by many concerns that we have heard repeatedly, like abrupt decision making, a lack of an understood plan and then of course we were faced with the website delays and the crash and 2-1-1 delays.”

Comerford said legislators were told that the vaccine appointment website was back up and functional as of early afternoon, but she said she had not tested it personally.

“We were told this was really a matter of the system being overloaded and while that’s understandable, it also could have been expected and perhaps prevented,” Comerford said.

Comerford, who next week will help lead an oversight hearing of the administration’s vaccine rollout as co-chair of the new COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said she was glad to hear that the governor had brought up the possibility of pre-registration for future phases, but said, “It’s going to necessitate a real considered, hopefully transparent plan for where these future sign-ups will be held.”

Mariano, the top House Democrat, was among those who tried to book a vaccination appointment Thursday morning.

“As one of the 1 million residents that became eligible to book my COVID-19 vaccines appointments today, I was disappointed to experience difficulties with the VaxFinder website. We all have the responsibility to get our shots as soon as we can,” he said. “I look forward to a productive oversight hearing next week, where we’ll address problems that delay the fair and accessible distribution of vaccines.”

[Matt Murphy contributed to this report.]

Fairhaven woman shares frustration with getting COVID vaccine access for her home-bound Vietnam veteran husband

“I have known this was an issue but thought it would be figured out in a reasonable amount of time. I was wrong! So so wrong!

My husband is a disabled combat veteran (Vietnam) with advanced MS due to agent orange exposure. He has been home-bound for over a year and a half. There are NO provisions, NONE, for vaccinating the home-bound.

Our town COA was getting permission to be a local vaccination site and planned to have our EMS do home visits but that option was removed when the state/governor pulled all local vaccination options back to the state level. I’ve been told a 20-year old that smokes and is obese can be vaccinated. But that my husband cannot. (Not because he’s not eligible but because he cannot access the vaccine)!!!

I get that a large amount of this is logistics but seriously?? REALLY REALLY are you serious? WHO ARE WE?

Did I mention he’s homebound because he’s a combat veteran? Did I mention, (and I know it’s not part of this), but he’s also a Gold Star dad? Did I mention I had home health aides to help me with his care that we paid, (private pay), but I let them go because of COVID??

We have been on our own and he’s been home-bound for a long-time, over a year? Where is our assistance? We have always been self-sufficient and our family did more than our part to defend and support our country. Why are the home-bound forgotten?!! I know it’s not just us!

I hate to add but at least my husband has me as an advocate. There are probably so many that do not have that! What about others out there that cannot leave their homes and possibly the meals on wheels lady is their only contact/voice!? I have always been a moderate voice and a pull up by your own bootstraps person, (I’m a swamp Yankee!) “, but seriously…

WHO ARE WE??!!”-Lisa J Rodriguez.

Message from Acushnet Fire Chief Gallagher after tour of City of New Bedford’s COVID Vaccine clinic

“Yesterday morning, the Council on Aging Directors, Health Agents and Fire Chiefs from Acushnet and Fairhaven toured the city of New Bedford’s Covid Vaccine clinic on Hillman Street. This tour followed several Zoom meetings where officials from both communities came together to plan for the local distribution of vaccines by sharing the resources of both towns. We agreed that a joint effort would be more effective and more efficient for both populations.

“Unfortunately, before we got back to our respective towns, the state pulled the rug out from under us.

“Instead of going to an Acushnet or Fairhaven building and receiving vaccine shots from local Paramedics and having the administrative work done by local Health Departments, residents from the two towns must now work against thousands of others to secure a spot at Gillette, Fenway, Circuit City, or some other state run mass vaccination site.

Acushnet Fire & EMS photo.

“We were ready to do it locally. Both towns filed for and received approval from the state to order, receive and store vaccine. Both towns worked on plans, stepped-up training, and even started to make lists of eligible residents. We were ready, very ready, to pull the trigger.

“Unfortunately, in a decision very much like that to limit state-run Covid testing to the big cities, smaller municipalities have been shut out. With testing, we could go it alone. With vaccination, we can’t.

“And that is regrettable.

“Please know that both communities wanted to do this. We planned. We toured. We met. We discussed. We fine-tuned. Simply put, we were ready.

“Please also know that when the state admits that their new policy failed, we will, once again, be ready.”-Kevin A. Gallagher.

Translate »