The Gatepost Editorial: Baker’s vaccine rollout is behind the curve

As of Feb. 2, Massachusetts has only administered 625,477 vaccines, with 1,156,375 vaccines distributed to vaccination sites, according to The Boston Globe. Only 126,560 individuals have received both doses of a vaccine. 

It’s encouraging that the state has begun vaccinating the general population. However, it’s disheartening that such a small percentage of the state’s 6.89 million residents have been vaccinated nearly two months after Pfizer and Moderna were approved by the FDA for emergency vaccine rollout.

While the Baker administration may be trying its best, its vaccination plan lacks a certain level of clarity.

The state is currently in the first step of the Phase 2 rollout plan. Phase 1 included healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and employees, and first responders. Phase 2 Group 1 includes those who are 75 and older.

Although currently ineligible for the vaccine, Phase 2 Group 2 will include individuals aged 65-plus and those who have two or more serious medical conditions. It also includes people who live and work in low-income and affordable senior housing.

Because the vaccine rollout is being implemented in phases, those who fall into the Phase 2 Group 3 category, such as public health, K-12, grocery, and transit workers, are still ineligible to receive the vaccine. 

The system the Baker administration has devised is just as confusing in practice as it is to explain. What do all these “phases” and “groups” mean? “When can I get the vaccine?” and “Where do I fall?” are questions people have been asking.

Those who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated have been left in the dark. Gov. Baker has not explained the reasoning behind the different phases clearly enough. 

If he explained the restricted rollout is intended to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system by first vaccinating the largest source of COVID-19 hospitalizations – the elderly – people might be more understanding. However, he has not been clear about this.

If he explained the state is holding back vaccines to ensure people will be able to get their second doses, people might be more understanding. However, he has not been clear about this.

If he explained that states don’t know how many vaccines they will be receiving because coordination at the federal level is lacking, people might be more understanding. However, he has not been clear about this.

Why, after two months, is Massachusetts still only allowing those in Phase 2 Group 1 as well as those previously eligible to get the vaccine? Because Gov. Baker has a plan, although he hasn’t been clear in explaining said plan.

However, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Massachusetts has experienced numerous pitfalls.

The state has made requesting a vaccination appointment difficult, especially for people who may face challenges accessing the internet. 

Many of the elderly, who are in Phase 2 Group 1, do not know how to use the technology necessary to make an appointment. Gov. Baker stated on Feb. 3 that the state will be establishing a call center, which will allow individuals to make appointments over the phone. This method of booking an appointment should have been created earlier to increase accessibility and limit confusion concerning booking appointments. 

The limited location of vaccination sites is also a concern. People who rely on public transportation might not be able to reach vaccination sites easily due to severe service reduction on public transportation routes as a result of the pandemic, including on the MBTA.

Although there are local, general, and mass vaccination sites spread across the state, appointment slots are limited due to the high demand, and the mass.gov website states appointment slots will be added on a “rolling basis based on supply from the Federal Government.”  

The rollout is not limited by a lack of funding. Since March 27, 2020, the Commonwealth has been under a Major Disaster Declaration, according to the state government’s website. 

Under this declaration, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has access to federal funding to cover the costs of emergency operations centers, including funds for “equipment and supplies required for storing, handling, distributing/transporting, and administering COVID-19 vaccines,” as well as facilities and support staff.

The state government has the resources to set up as many vaccination sites as possible. However, only a handful of mass vaccination sites have been set up, and vaccines have been distributed to a sprinkling of healthcare providers and pharmacy locations.

There’s simply not enough vaccination sites. If we are going to move past Phases 1 and 2 into Phase 3, we need more mass sites so vaccines can be administered at a faster rate. 

April is the target date set by the Baker administration to begin Phase 3 vaccine rollout. At the current rate, we don’t believe people from Phase 3 will begin receiving their vaccinations by that time.

Health care professionals and government leaders such as Gov. Baker are urging the public to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and yet, only a select number of individuals are actually eligible. 

Clearly, their message is contradictory. 

Furthermore, the state’s vaccination sites cannot currently cope with the limited number of those eligible to be vaccinated.

Americans waited nearly a year for a vaccine, and although two are available, most Massachusetts residents are still waiting and have no clear idea when it will be their turn to get the vaccine due to the confusing nature of the vaccine rollout program.

It’s time for Gov. Baker’s administration to acknowledge the flaws in its rollout plan and do right by all Massachusetts citizens.

We no longer have time to be patient when this vaccine could mean life or death.