Amid complaints about a slow and confusing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced changes today.
Massachusetts will expand the number of vaccination sites to 165 including a mass vaccination site at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and will move people age 65 and older higher on the vaccine eligibility list.
By mid-February, Baker said the state will have the capacity to administer 305,000 doses of vaccine per week, but he cautioned that the state can only move as fast as the federal government delivers vaccine.
"If we continue to get what we've been getting, we will have empty seats and open appointments that we won't be able to fill," said Baker.
In line with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts is giving a higher priority to seniors in its three-phase vaccine rollout. Massachusetts residents 65 and older will now be in line to receive the vaccine behind people age 75 and older and people with two or more chronic health issues. Under this new plan, seniors can be vaccinated before some essential workers including teachers, transit, and grocery store workers.
Starting February 1st, residents 75 and older are eligible to get vaccinated and beginning Wednesday can start booking appointments.
With the state changing who is eligible for the vaccine, Baker urged people to visit the website mass.gov/covidvaccinemap.
" What I would say to anybody who is confused is: go to the site, determine when you are eligible, find a site that is convenient and make an appointment," said Baker.
The mass vaccination site at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield will open Friday January 29th. The first large-scale vaccination location in Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium began operating last week. A site at Fenway Park will open February 1st. Two more sites in Danvers and Boston have been announced and the administration said there will be others.
Also this week, 44 new public vaccination sites will open in pharmacies and community clinics.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he personally lobbied Gov. Baker to get a mass vaccination site in the city.
"In my converstations with the governor, he knows the importnance of getting the vaccinations and the testing out here to western Massachusetts," said Sarno.
Sarno said Monday that people are clamoring to be vaccinated to the point they are calling him at home to find out when they can get a shot.
"I do want to see more of an agressive pace and I think you will start to see that," said Sarno. "People are a little frustrated. We all are."
For Massachusetts to meet its goal to vaccinate almost 4 million residents by the summer, the state needs to vaccinate four times as many people as it is now on a daily basis, said Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health.
He said more vaccine supply is needed and more large and small vaccine centers.
" I am keeping my fingers crossed for a couple of new products, likely the Axtra-Zenica and Johnson & Johnson (vaccines)," said Keroack.
Keroack said to the meet the vaccination goal, 5,000 people per day will have to be vaccinated in the Pioneer Valley.