BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – With a goal of being able to vaccinate 1 million people a month by the spring, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that 120,000 new appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations will be made available for next week as the state continues to scramble to improve the rollout of its vaccination program.
The governor toured Fenway Park, one of the state’s mass vaccination sites. Gov. Baker is stressing the importance of following the state guidelines.
“Its good to see that so many people want to get a vaccine, but currently, since there’s a limited supply, its important that we manage our process, then try to see if can’t serve the people who are most at risk first,” Baker said.
Baker both defended his administration’s approach to vaccinations while acknowledging that the program has shortcomings. He said that his administration is “open to criticism and to take criticism and to make adjustments and to get better,” but he said he does “not apologize” for choosing to prioritize certain groups for vaccines early on.
“I’m not happy with where we are. I know a lot of other people aren’t either. We have work to do and we know that,” Baker said, taking questions at Fenway Park where he visited Wednesday morning to tour the mass vaccination site that opened this week.
The state added an eligibility checker and the ability to search for vaccination sites by zip code to its appointment website, and the governor said he’ll have more to say later this week about a call center, and possibly additional mass vaccination sites. He also said the state was working with community leaders to improve outreach to communities of color, where the administration of the vaccine has been slower than among white populations.
“One of the best things a good manager does is recognizes and understands that they have a problem and then busts their butt to figure out how to fix it,” Baker said.
The state opened vaccine eligibility to people 75 and older this week. At Fenway Park, CIC Health is helping to vaccinate 500 people a day, and will increase its capacity to 1,000 people a day next week and eventually 1,250 people a day. About 1,200 people had received the shot at the iconic ballpark as of Wednesday morning.
“We are very proud to play a small part in the healing,” said Sam Kennedy, the president and CEO of the Red Sox, who joined Baker at the press conference. “Fenway Park has been a place for great moments over a century plus in Red Sox history, but it’s also been place for healing in the wake of 9-11, in the wake of the bombing in 2013 and now as we all combat this virus.”
Baker said that 55,000 new appointments will become available Thursday for next week at the state’s five mass vaccination sites in Boston, Springfield, Danvers, and Foxborough, and additional appointments will become available through pharmacies, retail chains, community health centers, and other vaccine providers.
“It may take several weeks in some cases to schedule an an appointment. Please be patient,” the governor said.
Baker would not say where the state was looking to locate two additional mass vaccination sites but said there were ongoing conversations with officials on Cape Cod, as well and in other regions, about expanding access. The newest site to open Wednesday was at the DoubleTree Hilton hotel in Danvers.
Some lawmakers from central Massachusetts have been particularly vocal about the lack of access to vaccine sites.
The White House announced Tuesday for the second week in a row that it would increase the vaccine allocation for states, this time to 10.5 million for the next three weeks. Baker, however, said the state is still counting on receiving about 100,000 new doses for next week, which is up from the 80,000 the state received weekly before Biden took office.
The Biden administration will also begin on Feb. 11 to distribute a limited supply of vaccine to select retail pharmacy chains as part of the first phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Baker said this, along with doses being reallocated from long-term care facilities serviced by CVS and Walgreens, will allow about 30 additional pharmacy sites to open next week with 21,000 appointments.
The new pharmacy locations, Baker said, will be concentrated in communities with large minority populations that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Walgreens is expected to open two new vaccination sites in Mattapan, two sites in Roxbury, and sites in Dorchester, Chelsea, Revere, and Everett.
According to the state’s last weekly vaccine report, nearly 43 percent of the people fully vaccinated so far are white. Just 2.6 percent of people who have received two doses are Black and 3.3 percent are Hispanic, while the race and ethnicity of nearly 29 percent of people receiving two doses is unknown.
Responding to questions about reports that many of the people waiting in line for a shot at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston’s historically Black neighborhood of Roxbury have been white, Baker said the state is working with community leaders to provide outreach to people in the community to assure them that the vaccine is safe and available.
“For many people of color, it’s important that the provider be someone they consider to be a trusted part of their community,” Baker said.
The city of Boston is helping to run the Reggie Lewis Center vaccination site for now, and Baker said the city is working to set up specific days for “people from the neighborhood” to come to the Center and get vaccinated. The state will take over full operation of the site later this month.
As of this week, Massachusetts has 125 vaccination sites operating, and the state expects to have 165 sites open by the middle of February. Baker said the state had received just over 1 million doses of vaccine and had administered 654,104 doses.
The state’s vaccination program began in late December with front-line health care workers and slowly expanded to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, first responders and congregate care facilities, like shelters and prisons.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, which does not precisely match the state’s data, put 38 states and the District of Columbia ahead of Massachusetts for vaccines administered per capita.
Baker said he was “not satisfied with where we are,” but defended his choices to prioritize certain groups for vaccination, which he said slowed down the process.
“I get how unhappy many people are with the rollout. I hear it. The lieutenant governor hears it. Secretary (Marylou) Sudders hears it. There are some reasons for that unhappiness that have to do with decision we made out of the gate, which I do not apologize for,” Baker said.