A group of about 94,000 people living and working in group homes, shelters and correctional facilities is next up for coronavirus vaccinations in Massachusetts.
This group, officially defined as those who are part of congregate care facilities, will become eligible on Monday to receive the first of two shots, the Baker administration announced Wednesday.
Staff and residents in this category may receive their doses through one of several deployment options: organizations with the right clinical abilities may apply to receive and administer vaccines directly or can leverage a relationship with a pharmacy or medical provider. Individuals may also schedule an appointment through a provider or at a mass vaccination site.
Pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens have also partnered with the Federal Pharmacy Partnership program (FPPP) and reached out to organizations to help kickstart vaccinations.
Congregate care "facilities are prioritized because they serve vulnerable populations in densely populated settings, which means they're at significant risk for contracting COVID-19," Gov. Charlie Baker said this week. "The staff are also at high risk for exposure at these facilities, and many of them do amazing work and it's important that they're vaccinated to protect themselves and their families."
Residents and staff also eligible Monday include those in residential treatment programs, community-based acute residential treatment programs, and clinical stabilization service programs, emergency shelter programs including homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and Veterans’ shelters, and approved private special education schools. Correctional facilities will also start to vaccinate staff and inmates.
As of Thursday, Massachusetts had administered 239,174 doses of the vaccine, of which 32,984 were the second dose given, according to the state's vaccination dashboard.
This represents a little over two-thirds of the nearly 350,000 doses shipped to the state.
That current number of available doses is not enough to vaccinate everyone eligible in the current phase — about a million more doses are necessary, Gov. Charlie Baker has said, to get two shots to all roughly 600,000 people earmarked for Phase 1.
"We are not holding on to any vaccine. Nobody's holding on to any vaccine," Baker said after signing a new hospital signage and safety law this week.
The overwhelming majority of doses as of Thursday had been given out through hospitals and the FPPP, though mass vaccination sites are ramping up. The first, established at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, is planning to give out 300 vaccine shots a day and eventually reach 5,000 daily doses. It will officially open on Monday after a soft launch began last Thursday.
Baker said he expected four or five mass vaccinations states to be up and running by the end of the month.
He said as recently as Wednesday that the state is still on track for its timeline to begin Phase 2 vaccinations in February.
Baker has also defended a decision to include inmates at correctional facilities in this group, of which there are about 6,500 in the state.
Anyone living in close quarters is at high risk, Baker has said, including prisoners. The many employees who work in the state's correctional system would also receive greater protection, he argued.
More on COVID-19 Vaccines
"There are 4,500 public employees who work in the state's correctional system who are every bit as much at risk as the inmates there," Baker said. "From our point of view, congregate facilities are congregate facilities and we need to make sure that for the people who work there and the people who live there — because of the possibility of outbreak and the heightened risk of close quarters — that should be a place where we focus early."
Doctors specializing in infectious diseases have backed the decision as an important measure to help everyone.
"Treating these people who are in jail and preventing COVID in them is going to benefit everyone," said jail doctor Alysse Wurcel, who is also an infectious diseases physician at Tufts Medical Center.
"People in jail go in and out of jail," she said. "They may be behind you in the supermarket. You don't know. Jail is a churn, it's not a process where somebody gets put away and locked in a tower and you're never going to see them again."
Dr. Mark Siedner, an infectious diseases clinician at Massachusetts General Hospital, added that keeping physical distance is "almost impossible" in prisons, and the virus has already tore through some of them, making them a bigger target fpr early vaccinations.
Vaccinations through the Department of Correction are expected to last three weeks to inoculate all residents and staff, according to the Baker administration.