BOSTON (SHNS) – The first day that it was up and running, a hotline that offers to answer COVID-19 testing and vaccination questions for Cape Cod residents was bombarded with calls, 990 of them in the first eight and a half hours, officials said.
Staffed by 15 volunteers from the county’s Cape Cod Medical Reserve Corps, the hotline aims to smooth over some of the confusion and frustration around the state’s rollout of the vaccine by fielding questions about testing and vaccination sites, vaccine eligibility and more at (774)-330-3001.
Public dissatisfaction with the pace of the vaccine rollout has been a persistent theme during the weekly updates provided from the Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force and remained so Thursday. As he’s done for about a month now, Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro urged people to be patient and defended the Baker administration’s phased approach to the rollout. He also placed blame for the sputtering process on the Trump administration.
“We certainly have heard from a fair share of folks who I think are anxiously eager to see access to the vaccine. I continue to really urge patience. The governor has been methodically rolling out vaccination. There is a plan, a process, however slow. We have not been getting adequate assistance from the prior federal administration. We expect that to change substantially,” Cyr, who worked for the Department of Public Health for five years before being elected to the Senate, said. He added, “I do want to state that we’re making progress.”
Massachusetts is still partway through the first of three vaccination phases outlined by the Baker administration. Health care workers who might come into contact with COVID-19, long-term care residents and staff, and first responders are so far eligible for the vaccine. People who live or work in congregate settings became newly eligible for the vaccine this week.
Sean O’Brien, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment, said Thursday that by the end of the day the county will have vaccinated between 800 and 900 first responders. He said no doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been wasted.
“All doses are used, we have used everything,” he said. “We are very conscientious when it comes to opening up vials and making sure it is used right … we want to make sure that we’re following through and we’re respecting the vaccine and its use.”
Next up in the vaccine priority order will be home-based health care workers and then health care workers who do not provide COVID-facing care. Cyr said he expects those groups to become eligible to be vaccinated sometime in the next two weeks.
Phase two of the state’s plan, which is slated to start sometime in February, will expand access to the vaccine more broadly to people 75 or older, people with two or more underlying health conditions, workers in key sectors like K-12 education, transit, grocery, public works and more, then people 65 or older and people with one underlying health concern.
The start of the second phase and the pace at which Massachusetts advances through it will depend largely on vaccine distribution from the federal government. Cape officials are preparing to vaccinate more people through town-specific and regional vaccination sites.
They are also talking with DPH to firm up the state’s plans for a mass vaccination site for Cape Cod like the ones announced at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. O’Brien said the location is still being worked out.
“It would be a big help to all of us down here to have something like that as well,” he said.
Cyr said Cape officials and DPH are working to iron out issues related to traffic and logistics around the required 15-minute post-vaccination monitoring period and a system to schedule people for the second dose of the vaccine.
“So the logistics here are quite intricate and if you do it in a certain way you can see a whole host of challenges and issues related to traffic, related to people flow,” he said. “Those are some of the pieces that we’re trying to work out and the state is working out as well.”
If the state establishes its own mass vaccination site on the Cape, O’Brien said his team and other organizations would be able to do more to supplement the state’s efforts. He said he is eying four or five regional vaccination sites that would fit into a hybrid model for the Cape.
“If towns want to run smaller clinics for their residents, they may and we will support them wherever we can on that, and in addition, we’re looking at some regionwide clinics that may be available for some mass vaccination as well,” O’Brien said.