After a slow start, Massachusetts officials are accelerating efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of people across the state.
Following a rocky few days that saw elderly people by the hundreds waiting hours in line outside in the cold and snow at a mass vaccination site in Springfield, things went considerably smoother Wednesday.
"Very very organized, very fast, very little waiting," said Lorna O'Connor after receiving a first dose of vaccine at the Springfield clinic. "It was wonderful."
Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser, who has been highly critical of the vaccination rollout under the direction of Republican Governor Charlie Baker toured the vaccination site operated by Curative at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and said there have been significant improvements there.
"It is very clear there was a lack of supervision, a lack of quality control, a lack of oversight from the state," Lesser said when asked who he blamed for the earlier problems at the vaccination site.
Among the changes at the Springfield site – the only large scale COVID vaccination clinic in western Massachusetts – are the deployment of National Guard medical personal to help Curative staff with the actual vaccinations and an agreement with the mall manager to let people wait inside when their appointment time is called.
The state announced that 50,000 appointments will be available for booking starting Thursday at the mass vaccination sites in Springfield, Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, and in Danvers.
In another effort to pick up the vaccination pace, the state announced that a younger person who accompanies a senior resident to a vaccination appointment can also make an appointment to be vaccinated the same day.
Despite the early missteps that included a hard to navigate online appointment system, the state reported Tuesday that more than 900,000 doses of vaccine have been administered—a 40 percent increase from the beginning of the month. 46 percent of the state’s approximately 430,000 residents who are 75 and older were vaccinated in just the first week of eligibility.
"We frankly had no where to go but up in a lot of respects," Lesser said.
The state will be adding more vaccination capacity with two more large scale sites in Natick and Dartmouth scheduled to open later this month.
But Democratic State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield said these mass vaccination sites are not the answer to getting vaccine to Blacks and Hispanics who live in high density neighborhoods.
"We know that the Black and brown communities have not been vaccinated, not only in the city of Springfield, but in the state of Massachusetts," said Gonzalez.
Last week, 10 Springfield City Councilors sent a letter to Gov. Baker asking that vaccine be allocated to the city’s health department for use at neighborhood clinics.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris, addressing a meeting of the Council’s COVID-19 Response Committee Tuesday said there is the “potential” the state will assign vaccine to the city for local clinics.
"It is not concrete yet," Caulton-Harris said. "There are conversations currently happening."
City officials have identified 10 sites that could be used for neighborhood vaccination clinics and are making plans to staff the sites with local college students enrolled in health care programs.