BOSTON (SHNS) – A COVID-19 conference call Cape Cod officials hosted Wednesday night drew more than 13,000 participants, helping to connect thousands of older residents with information about vaccines and offering a glimpse into hundreds who need additional aid to book appointments, officials said.
Amid growing frustration about the Baker administration’s online-only expansion of vaccine eligibility to adults 75 and older, many local and regional officials have attempted to fill the gap with their own resources aimed at helping those with limited internet access or technological dexterity.
The Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force touted its Wednesday night call with residents as a major success. Sen. Julian Cyr said the call provider was “stunned” at the level of participation, noting that 10,000 lines remained dialed in a full hour into the event.
Cyr told reporters Thursday morning that more than 600 people who participated indicated they do not have internet access and more than 100 who would need a ride to get to a vaccine appointment, data points that will help local leaders offer support and remove obstacles.
“We were able to collect very useful data about older adults who dialed in, particularly the most vulnerable folks,” he said. “We’re really interested in information that’s going to guide us toward ensuring that the most vulnerable people get access to vaccinations in the days ahead.”
Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said the phone-based town hall “felt like back in the World War Two era of radio” when families would huddle around to hear critical information broadcast to them.
“Sometimes we forget that not everyone’s a digital adapter, and we forget that some people are truly isolated and can’t find information,” she said.
Individuals 75 and older now qualify to receive vaccines, but the early days of their eligibility have been rocky. The Baker administration opened up the phase by directing residents to book appointments online, and since then, reports of older adults struggling to use the platform have been widespread.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker said he would provide more information this week about efforts to stand up a state-run call center to assist those who cannot or prefer not to use the internet for vaccine appointments. On Thursday, Baker said he still intends to release more information this week.
Since the vaccine rollout started with front-line health care workers in December, providers on Cape Cod have administered nearly 11,000 first doses and more than 5,000 second doses, according to Cyr.
Those figures do not include doses administered at Stop & Shop, Walgreens and CVS, which Cyr said all either declined to provide data to the task force or did not respond.
The Truro Democrat said that vaccination efforts on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have been particularly successful: by next week, hospitals expect to have vaccinated each island’s entire 75-and-older population.
Their small size makes that goal significantly easier to achieve, but Cyr praised the impending milestone as a sign of the important role that local efforts can play.
“If you look at the islands’ example, if you empower the smaller communities or regions to do this work, they can actually move quite efficiently,” he said.
The Baker administration plans to operate at least seven mass vaccination sites, five of which are already running: the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Fenway Park in Boston, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers, and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
Asked about the prospect of a mass vaccination site on or closer to the Cape, Cyr replied that officials in the region are hopeful but are planning ways to vaccinate all residents without one.
“We are used to having to help ourselves in the hinterlands, and I know my colleagues in Berkshire County and out west know that as well,” he said. “We are always pushing for regional equity, and we are ready to administer vaccinations regardless of what happens with those mass vaccine sites.”
A regional vaccine clinic at the Barnstable County Fairgrounds in East Falmouth drew 600 people on Wednesday, while another 375 should get doses at the Melody Tent in Hyannis on Thursday, Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment Director Sean O’Brien said.
While the vaccination effort continues, the Cape’s overall public health outlook has been improving. Hospitalizations have been dropping, according to Barnstable County Department of Human Services Deputy Director Vaira Harik, though the number of patients in the ICU are still elevated.
“It seems very clear that we are on the other side of the holiday surge,” Harik said.