Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that Massachusetts residents age 65 or older or with two or more specific medical conditions, including asthma, will be eligible to book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Thursday.
The announcement means an additional 1 million people will become eligible for the vaccine. Due to extremely high demand for appointments and limited vaccine supply, officials said it could take more than a month for all eligible residents to secure an appointment.
"Unless we see a massive increase in shipments from the feds, it will take us at least a month for people in these new groups to be able to book their first vaccine appointment," Baker said. "Believe me, we all know that sounds like a long time, but the demand is so much greater than the supply we're getting at this time."
"None of us thinks this program is moving fast enough," he added. "But you can't vaccinate people if you don't have enough vaccine to make available."
Over 70,000 new vaccination appointments are scheduled to be posted at mass vaccination sites in Springfield, Danvers, Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium at 8 a.m. Thursday.
"There's no reason to stay up overnight," Baker noted.
The state is currently allowing people 75 and older to sign up for vaccination appointments, in addition to first responders, health care workers and people connected to long term care facilities. But many have complained the state's system for vaccination sign-ups is difficult to navigate, and appointments are hard to come by.
Late last week, the Baker administration began allowing people accompanying eligible residents 75 and older to vaccination appointments to also receive vaccination shots.
Legislators had asked Baker to put the companion program on hold until those 65 and older, people with chronic conditions and essential workers were vaccinated. Opponents of the move have cited "disturbing reports" of Massachusetts residents taking advantage of those who are over 75 to get their own appointments. Others fear that too many people that fall within lower-risk categories will receive the vaccine before those who need it.
On Tuesday, members of the state's Congressional delegation sent a letter to Baker urging Massachusetts to create a centralized COVID-19 vaccine sign-up system to let all residents pre-register for shots, confirm eligibility and receive a notification when an appointment becomes available at a nearby location.
“A disjointed and cumbersome sign-up process has left seniors confused and unable to access desperately needed vaccine appointments, and the disproportionate reliance on mass vaccination sites has left appointments unfilled with large portions of our most vulnerable populations unserved,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in the letter to the Republican governor.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, James McGovern, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch, and William Keating.
“We remain deeply concerned that the absence of a centralized pre-registration system for vaccine appointments has contributed to a slow and inequitable deployment of vaccines in Massachusetts,” the lawmakers added.
The Baker administration last week launched an online tool designed to make it easier for residents to find COVID-19 vaccination locations.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Finder lets individuals search for locations near them by entering their ZIP code, city or town name, or the name of a vaccination location. Residents can also filter results by site type, such as mass vaccination locations, locations run by local health departments, retail pharmacies or health care locations.
The finder displays all vaccination locations open to residents, but includes only appointment details for mass vaccination locations and some sites operated by local health departments.