Cape officials hearing frustration over vaccine rollout

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Sen. Julian Cyr knows that many Massachusetts residents are confused and frustrated trying to figure out when they will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Many of them, after all, have been in touch with the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force to express those feelings.

But his top concern, Cyr said Thursday while once again calling for patience, remains focused on those who have been less vocal.

Populations that have been less engaged in the vaccine discussion, such as older adults, people of color and non-English speakers, might be missing out on key information that could leave them at greater risk.

“I hear a lot of concern about the potential for the ‘wrong person’ to receive the vaccination prematurely, but the concern should rather be about the potential that key groups in our community, the most vulnerable people in our community, don’t receive it,” Cyr said.

For the second time in as many weekly conference calls, Cyr defended the Baker administration’s rollout of COVID-19 immunizations, which Gov. Charlie Baker himself has described as “bumpy.”

Residents have reached out to the Cape’s task force complaining that information has been “slow” to reach them, Cyr said, and to voice frustration at the pace of the process. The uncertainty, he said, will likely continue “for several more weeks.”

Noting that legislators do not have control over the rollout plan, Cyr said the distribution continues to follow the prioritization schedule even if it is “deliberate and slow.”

“Everyone is trying their best in a remarkably difficult, intricate situation, and I am urging patience right now,” Cyr said. “This is the largest coordinated health activity in the history of our commonwealth, and it’s important that we get the implementation right. We don’t want to give an anxious public a date certain in the future that then is rolled back.”

The state is still partway through the first of three vaccination phases outlined by the administration. Doses became available to first responders this week, and access will expand to congregate care settings next week.

Cyr said vaccinating first responders is “going well” on the Cape so far. This week, 240 doses have been administered at a site in Orleans, 200 at a site in Barnstable and 350 at a site in Sandwich.

Through Wednesday afternoon, Massachusetts had received about 656,000 vaccine doses and administered slightly more than 217,000, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The Bay State’s roughly 33 percent rate of vaccines that have been distributed and administered ranks in the middle of the pack for all states and territories.

Responding to what he described as frequent questions from the public about how peer states are faring, Cyr said elected officials “cannot speak to what other states are doing.”

“Massachusetts is taking a deliberate approach, so we don’t have an answer there,” he said. “I’ll just add that for those who continue to be frustrated, I would remind them we have dealt with a real abdication of leadership by the current federal administration, and also our fragmented market-based health care system has not helped. This is dysfunction that’s unique to the United States.”

Vaccination infrastructure is still expanding, and the Baker administration on Tuesday announced that Gillette Stadium would open next week as the state’s first mass vaccination site.

However, Barnstable County Department of Human Services Deputy Director Vaira Harik said she does not believe the Department of Public Health has any plans at this point to open a state-run mass vaccination site on Cape Cod.

“That’s going to be left to us here in the region,” she said.

Cyr said everyone he knows who has been vaccinated so far was contacted directly by either state officials or a vaccine provider to learn that they now qualify.

Barnstable County officials are also planning to launch a hotline by the end of the week that residents can call with any COVID-related questions, according to Sean O’Brien, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment.

“I know there’s a frustration out there, and we’re just hoping that people can be patient,” O’Brien said. “As soon as we hear and as soon as we have the information out there as to where folks can get the vaccine and vaccinations, we’ll make it available. We’re not holding anything back.”

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