Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday defended his decision to delay vaccinations for residents 65 and older until a large portion of the 75-plus population has already received doses.
"I'm not going to put a number on it," the governor said when asked when the next step in the state's vaccination program might begin. "The main reason is I don't want to get it wrong. The biggest driver in this is going to be how quickly the 75-plus community can get to the point where we've vaccinated enough of them to be comfortable that if we open it up to another very big group, that if you're 75 or older you'll still have the ability to maybe get vaccinated."
While most states have expanded their vaccine eligibility list to include anyone age 65 or older, Baker said Massachusetts staggered its plan for a specific reason.
"The data on the over 75 population, life or death, is so much different than the data for everybody else," he said. "The reason we started with long-term care facilities is that group in particular is off the charts relative to everybody else. The over 75 people are the next group that is literally most at risk here, by far. The 65 and over people are more at risk than people under the age of 65, but honestly, we've got to get as far through the 75s as we can because they are in many respects far more vulnerable to COVID than anybody else."
Baker spoke Wednesday after touring the new mass vaccination site at the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers. The press conference came just hours after the state announced that caregivers who are accompanying a person 75 or older may schedule their own vaccination at the same time and location.
The state also announced it is opening two additional mass vaccination sites this month, in Natick and Dartmouth, and said 74,000 appointments are scheduled to be posted online for mass vaccination sites and pharmacies at locations statewide on Thursday.
At his last press conference on Monday, Baker said he's in no rush to expand the pool of vaccine-eligible residents to people 65 and older or with at least two underlying health conditions, who would all be in the next group based on the state's updated vaccination plan.
The administration opened the vaccine pool to people 75 and older on Feb. 1, and Baker said Monday that the state had vaccinated roughly 200,000 of the more than 430,000 residents in that age bracket. A new call center for seniors who have had trouble with the website, don't have internet or are not comfortable navigating the website also opened last week.
"That's a big number," the governor said, referring to those in the grouping who have been vaccinated. "But I think we'll probably want to leave it open for a little while longer to see if some more 75-year-old folks sign up."
Health care workers, first responders, nursing home residents, the homeless and those in prison are also currently eligible for the shot. Baker said the mass vaccination sites in Boston, Danvers, Foxborough and Springfield were "batting about 100%" in terms of vaccine doses allocated and administered, and that there are still a few thousands appointments available for late in the week.
Teachers, food industry workers and transit employees are all part of Phase 2 of the state's vaccination plan, and would follow residents 65 and older and those with two or more medical conditions that put them at a higher risk from COVID-19.
The general public is expected to have access to the vaccine beginning some time in April.