The demand for COVID-19 booster shots is on the rise in Massachusetts amid an increase in cases and growing concern over the new omicron variant.
The Bay State is seeing a higher demand for boosters when compared with just a couple of weeks ago, Gov. Charlie Baker said, when thousands of open appointments were available.
While appointments to get booster shots are still available, it may take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to schedule. As of Wednesday morning, the next available appointment on the state's VaxFinder website was on Dec. 10.
Baker said his team is working on ways to increase availability.
"We have 1,000 locations across Massachusetts right now where people can get vaccinated" Baker said. "And I think our goal would be to see if we could put together more. It would be faster and easier for us to do this if we work in conjunction with our colleagues and local government."
The rise in demand comes amid mounting concerns over the new omicron variant. The variant has not yet been detected in the U.S., but the World Health Organization declared it poses a "very high" global risk, setting off questions about this strain's transmissibility and potential to evade the protections afforded by vaccines.
Politicians and medical experts in Massachusetts are urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot as they eagerly await answers to crucial questions about the latest COVID-19 variant and whether it could alter the nature of the pandemic and the public health response. The efficacy of the vaccines against this variant, however, remains unclear.
While there are still many unknowns about the new strain, Massachusetts General Hospital's Dr. Mark Siedner said his biggest concern is that it seems to have more mutations than most other variants.
"It is different enough form our current viruses. We do think there’s a chance it could escape our immune system," Siedner said.
Siedner stressed that it’s important to keep in mind that current vaccines were made before any of the variants were around.
"To now, our vaccines have done a very good job against alpha, beta and delta," Siedner said. "The original vaccines, which were not developed with any of those variants in mind, have protected people from severe disease and death effective at more than 90%."
About a million people in Massachusetts have already gotten a booster and the state is administering about 55,000 shots per day, including the first dose, second dose as well as boosters.
Meanwhile, lines are growing at vaccination and testing sites alike. The line extended out the door of a walk-in clinic in Jamaica Plain Tuesday.
Massachusetts' COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, had been far lower than they were in spring, but have been rising lately.
Massachusetts' seven-day average of positive tests jumped from 3.72% on Monday to 4.46% on Tuesday, reaching a level last seen on Jan. 26, state data shows. The metric was once above 30%, but had dropped under 0.5% until the delta variant began surging in the state.
Dr. Paul Sax, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital noted that hospitalizations are also on the rise. What hasn’t changed, Sax emphasized, is that the unvaccinated continue to be the sickest patients in the hospital.
"Cases are clearly going up and going up in a similar trajectory to last year," Sax said. "Remember, we had a big surge in the winter and that’s partially to be expected because of the seasonality of coronaviruses."
"So if you haven't had your first vaccine, please get it and your booster," Sax went on. "We want to avoid as many cases as possible."