Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday said Massachusetts will close four of the state's seven mass COVID-19 vaccination sites by the end of June as his administration pivots to the "next phase" of the vaccine distribution process.
In a press conference, Baker said the move is part of a more "targeted" strategy focused on regional collaboratives, pharmacies and walk-up and mobile clinics that seeks to vaccinate more residents in disproportionately impacted communities.
"It's time to adapt our vaccination effort to make sure we get to some of the harder-to-reach populations," Baker said.
The sites expected to close by the end of June are those at Gillette Stadium, the Hynes Convention Center, Natick Mall and Double Tree Hotel in Danvers.
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“The vaccine landscape has changed,” said Professor Devon Greyson, who studies public health decisions and vaccine hesitancy at UMass Amherst. “We need to shift from this phase of rationing vaccine to a phase where we’re ensuring access to all.”
Greyson says the transition will help reach people who want a vaccine but haven’t signed up.
“It’s very important particularly for communities where people may have doubts, questions or concerns, for people to be able to get their questions answered by people that they trust,” said Greyson.
“There’s no question that patients trust their doctor,” said Dr. Russ Phillips, who runs the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School and sees his own patients in practice as well. “They’re used to getting vaccines from their physician.”
“We have patients coming into the office of all backgrounds, patients of color, frustrated by their inability to get vaccines through our offices,” said Dr. Phillips. “There are studies that have been done that show 80 percent of primary care physicians have wanted to give vaccine, and only 20 to 30 percent are actually doing it right now.”
According to Baker's office, the next phase of the vaccination distribution process will include:
• Providing all 22 regional collaboratives with doses to fully operate their programs.
• Doubling the state vaccine allocation for the 20 most disproportionately impacted communities.
• Working with the Mass Medical Society to increase access of vaccines with additional primary care providers by mid-May. This effort will require affirming complex storage and scheduling logistics to ensure all doses are put to good use.
• Expanding mobile vaccine clinics in our 20 most disproportionately impacted communities at senior centers, houses of worship and other community-based organizations.
• Working with current providers and community partners to offer new vaccine clinic opportunities.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the pre-registration system that has been used to book appointments at these sites will remain in operation, including for parents who may want to have their children aged 12 to 15 vaccinated if regulators approve the shot for younger children in the coming months
Baker said the moves are possible because the state is on track, by June, to reach its goal of vaccinating 4.1 million residents, calling it an "incredible achievement."
According to health officials, 3.9 million people in Massachusetts had been fully or partially vaccinated as of Monday. Some 180,000 residents are scheduled to get their first dose in the next week.
Baker said due to increasing supply of vaccine doses, appointments are becoming easier to secure. He said now is "a really good time" for anyone who hasn't yet been vaccinated to sign up for an appointment.
The remarks came as the state continues to loosen COVID restrictions as case counts trend downward,including the outdoor mask mandate, which was lifted Friday.
Baker said Thursday Massachusetts could fully reopen sooner than his proposed date of Aug. 1 if residents continue to get vaccinated against coronavirus at the current rate. Additionally, people can now take off their masks outdoors in Massachusetts, provided they can maintain social distance.
All business restrictions and industries are slated to reopen on Aug. 1 under a series of measures announced earlier this week aimed at reopening the state's economy. But Baker said he would move faster if residents keep getting vaccinated at this pace.
"If the people of Massachusetts continue to be as aggressive and as enthusiastic about getting vaccinated as they've been, we may have the ability to do that sooner," Baker said Thursday.
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Massachusetts is currently one of the only states in which two-thirds of the adult population has had at least one dose, Baker said Friday.
"We do have some good news in Massachusetts on vaccinations," Baker said. "We're number one in the country in the percentage of our population that's been first dosed and fully dosed among all states that have more than five million people."
The likelihood of getting a second dose in Massachusetts is "unbelievably high," Baker added. North of 99% of residents who get a first dose get a second dose, Baker said.
The state has "finally" gotten to the point where vaccination appointments are more readily available, according to Baker, with more than 800 sites across Massachusetts.
Baker encouraged all residents to get vaccinated after he got his second dose on Wednesday. He cited "overwhelming evidence," that vaccines work.
"Twenty-four hours after I got it, I ached all over. I had chills. I didn't have a temperature and it was all in all a pretty crummy day. And by the end of the day, I felt better. And two weeks from now I will be part of the fully vaccinated part of the Commonwealth and I urge everybody in Massachusetts to go get vaccinated," he said.
"That is the best, fastest and best thing you can do for yourself, do for your family, do for your community. Go get vaccinated," Baker said.